Saint Francis and the Crucifix of San Damiano
The painting by Giotto, in the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, shows the young, flamboyant merchant who will become Saint Francis of Assisi, in the process of his conversion, praying before the Crucifix in the little, dilapidated church of San Damiano in Assisi. Francis was seeking to know God's Will, when the image of the Crucified Christ spoke to him, "Francis, go and repair My House, which, as you can see, is falling into ruin." He took this as his mission and immediately set about repairing San Damiano. Little did he realize then that God was asking him to repair the entire Church through poverty, simplicity, humility, and love.
The Confraternity of Penitents has chosen this painting, painted within one hundred years of Saint Francis's life, to symbolize the charism of the Confraternity.
Why would the Confraternity select an image of Francis before his conversion rather than after?
Because this image shows Francis as a layman, and we penitents are lay people (for the most part. A few religious are also in our number).
We must, as penitents, keep ourselves in prayer before Christ, as Saint Francis did, so that we are attuned to him and receive our "marching orders." We must always act under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and not under our own volition.
As penitents at prayer in the modern world, we see the Church and the world around us in need of restoration, as the Church of San Damiano is portrayed in this painting. Our call from Christ, given to Francis so tenderly yet so urgently from the San Damiano Crucifix, was to "Repair My House which, as you can see, is falling into ruin."
As lay people, we are to rise from prayer and bring the message and the action of restoration to our Church and to our world which is now, more than ever, in need of Christ. Some of us penitents have gone on to embrace religious life, but most of us are called to remain seculars. We will always be in prayer before the Crucifix, asking God to assist us in our on going conversion in a broken world that needs whatever mending help we can give in our state of life.
To repair the house of God (the Church in the world) through individuals committed to a life of conversion is the mission of the Confraternity of Penitents. We welcome you to follow St. Francis of Assisi in surrendering completely to Christ and in rebuilding his Church in a life of joyful witness, penance, and love. We hope to hear from you soon, as the Holy Spirit leads.