Sometimes we invite a new saint into our lives, but sometimes they choose us. This is what happened to my friendship with St. Francis of Assisi.
At the beginning of July 2003 we had to euthanize our family dog, which led to further changes that left me sad and a little empty. I realized that I had to take a step back and sit back, and I decided to look for a place to do a personal weekend retreat.
The internet and a few phone calls took me to a Franciscan monastery in Wilmington, Delaware. As I approached the large stone building, a man in overalls with white hair and a beard came over to greet me with open arms. NS. Thomas Pietrantonio – Father Tom – was a Capuchin priest and one of the most hospitable people I have ever met. He was really overjoyed to see me, a stranger who had just arrived from Baltimore.
The weekend went in the nicest possible way. Father Tom never asked me why I came and I never told him. I did not have to. I went for a walk alone and talked to God. I sat on the porch with Father Tom, sometimes chatting, sometimes in silence. I went to the daily mass in the chapel. I read in my room. And I found the most extraordinary peace.
At some point I realized that without thinking about it, I had been taken to a Franciscan spiritual home while mourning the loss of our dog. All of a sudden, it made sense for me to do a retreat in this place that I discovered by chance. The weekend unfolded like a beautiful, unexpected gift as I met St. Francis in a new, much more personal way.
During mass on my last morning there, we sang “How Great Thou Art”. I sang as my eyes filled with tears – tears of sadness and gratitude, but also of hope. Because God had led me there and I knew He would be with me no matter what was in front of me. And I realized that I had made some new friends – Father Tom, of course, but St. Francis too.
A few weeks later, I met the man who would become my husband. I knew straight away that we had something special. And early on he told me that his birthday was October 4th, which happened to be the feast of St. Francis of Assisi is.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
Today we will bless our favorite finches with holy water and celebrate John’s birthday. But I am also thinking of my two favorite Franciscans, St. Francis and Father Tom.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hate let me sow love
Forgive where there are injuries;
Where there is doubt, belief;
Where there is despair, there is hope;
Where there is darkness, there is light;
And where there is sadness, there is joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much
to comfort as to comfort,
to understand than to understand
to be loved, how to love.
Because in giving we receive
In forgiveness we are pardoned
and in death we are born to eternal life.
– Prayer of St. Francis
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