Believing that prayer is the best way to draw strength from heaven, I made a pilgrimage today to the Franciscan Sanctuary in Greccio, some 80 kilometers north of Rome. The sanctuary is the famous place where, in 1223, Saint Francis of Assisi built the first ever presepio (Christmas crib). I celebrated mass at the chapel where St Francis began our practice of placing the Child in the Manger at Christmas. The room is so small that only about 10 people could fit in.
The base of the altar is a stone of about three feet high and two feet wide. Somewhere in the middle there is a rough, shallow indentation and it was there the carved image of the infant Jesus was laid by St Francis. On the wall next to the altar is a fresco of Mary breastfeeding Jesus.
I went to the Franciscan Sanctuary to offer two special intentions – to thank God for my friend who has recently celebrated her birthday and also to pray for another friend who was diagnosed today to have tumor in her brain. I had mixed emotions – one friend celebrates life while another is confronted with a grim future. One friend added another year to her life while the other might not enjoy more months or weeks. I imagined that while one friend blew candles on her birthday cake, the other offered candles in her favorite Church to ease her pain.
Though I may have had mixed emotions, I had complete trust in God. As I raised my arms in prayer at the altar, I placed my friends in God’s hands. I allowed my whole being to reach out to God, knowing that prayer is to put ourselves into full and joyful conformity with the will of God. While I thanked God for the gift of life, I also expressed trust that God will take away the tumor and heal my friend completely. She is a doctor and I believe God gives her a mission to heal others (not just cure them, but heal them). My conviction of God’s infinite compassion and love makes me sure that God will take this devastating experience in my friend’s life and turn it for good. She will bless other people as she has been blessed all her life.
After the mass, I walked around the sanctuary feeling at peace and refreshed. St Francis must have loved this place because of its sheer beauty. The sun was shining brightly and wherever I looked I saw something beautiful – the autumn trees, stone houses, the blue sky, the colorful valley below. Prayerful silence, not merely the absence of noise, is given paramount importance in the sanctuary and any corner can be a place of prayer. The Franciscan Sanctuary is truly a good place to perform the job of taking care of our soul.