“Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” (Luke 17:17-18)
This past Tuesday we celebrated the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. He is my patron saint (it’s my middle name) and I chose him for my confirmation saint. Two weeks before I became pastor of this parish, I travelled to Assisi for the very first time. After our tour of the town and the tombs of Saints Francis and Claire, I asked our tour guide how I could get to San Damiano: a small chapel on the outskirts of town. Why did I want to go there? Well, for those who don’t know the story of St. Francis in San Damiano here goes: When Francis was discerning his vocation, he retreated to this small chapel which laid in ruins. All that was left there was a cross and the saint heard the Lord say to him, “Francis, rebuild my church.” Now Francis saw this as a tangible sign from the Lord to do something concrete with his life and he started literally rebuilding San Damiano stone by stone. But there was also a deeper meaning behind this invitation, for Francis would turn out to be a transformative figure in the Church of the 13th century as the universal Church needed some rebuilding as well and the Franciscans would breathe some life into an aristocratic and “too wealthy for its own good” Church.” So I wanted to travel to where St. Francis had heard the voice of the Lord, and even though it was late in the day and the chapel was closed, I convinced a taxi driver to take my mother, a friend, and myself to San Damiano.
I said in one of my pilgrimage videos three months ago, that if Assisi is the most peaceful place on earth, then San Damiano is the most peaceful place in Assisi. We arrived and I asked the taxi driver to wait for us and to keep the meter running because it was a long walk back into town and it was getting late. The meter didn’t matter to me. I was transfixed by this place. I stood staring at this chapel that St. Francis had rebuilt with his two hands and thought about the mission that I was about to embark on as soon as I returned home. I kept repeating the words of Jesus to Francis in my head: “rebuild my church.” When it was time to go, you can see in the picture below that while my feet look ready to leave, my head is still firmly pointing towards the chapel. I did not want to leave, but just as the disciples had to descend from Mount Tabor, I too had to get down from this mountain to begin my new mission. What was going through my mind in that picture below? I was thinking of all the incredible parishioners that I had yet to meet. I was thinking about rebuilding a church. I was thinking of Immaculate Conception.
Now you may think there’s nothing wrong with our parish, that no rebuilding is needed here. We come to Mass; things go smoothly, so no problem. But that’s not the Church that our Lord envisioned. We are an apostolic Church! Called to go out and not to be merely pew dwellers.
Last week, I referenced the first part of our mission statement that focused on being disciples. This week, the focus is on us being a “Eucharistic people called to go out and bring the presence of Christ into the world.” What does it mean to be “Eucharistic?” Well, just look at today’s gospel. Eucharist means thanksgiving and we see one of the ten lepers come back glorifying God and thanking Him for being cured. This spirit of thanksgiving is how we should live our lives. (We must be thankful this week especially because we were spared from the hurricane.) Being Eucharistic also means being the presence of Christ in the world because Jesus asks a very important question when this leper returns: “Where are the other nine?” The statistic of 1 in 10 used in the gospel is the same statistic the Archbishop constantly reminds his priests of: only 1 in 10 Catholics in the Archdiocese go to Mass. So it’s up to us to go out and find the other nine. It’s up to us to be apostolic. It’s up to us to be a Eucharistic people. It’s up to us to rebuild this church together! All of us are living stone, as we hear in 1 Peter 2:5, that make up this beautiful parish, but there are many stones that are missing. I give thanks to God for the ones that are here and are doing great works, but now we must invite others to be part of this continual rebuilding process. God has blessed us with so much, how do we repay him and how do we help him rebuild his church?