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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Assisi Alive with Tradition

City of Assisi today seen from OL of the Angels

I'm writing from Assisi today.  It is a wonderful spring morning and the place is bustling with activity.  I went to morning prayer and Mass in Italian with the friars here, then after breakfast I visited the Basilica of Our lady of the Angels.  This is the place where the Franciscan movement really began.  The Baslica was built in the sixteenth century and houses the little chapel of Or Lady of the Angels (beleived to be built in the mid 4th century) one of several small churches rebuilt by St. Francis and his early followers after Francis heard the call to "Rebuild my House."  It was here that Francis and his companions first gathered as a community, a brotherhood.  It was from here that they were first sent out to preach.  It is here that to this day most of our general chapters are held.

   Assisi is rich in tradition, but it is not locked into the past.  Instead it honors and commemorates the past, yet brings it forward.  Today the city sports modern buildings, festooned not only with Italian flags but also with TV satellite dishes.  The friary has internet outlets in most rooms, including the one I'm writing from, but most importantly the basilica is filled with young people from all over the world enthusiastically singing hymns and praying in the chapel or "Portiuncula" (Little portion) as we Franciscans call it.

  This brings me to the point of this blog entry.  Tradition is, I believe, one of the most misunderstood words in the Catholic vocabulary.  It is too often expressed as a clinging to the past and the old and a rejection of the present and the new.  People who do this are called "traditionalists."  Tradition is also often confused with customs.   Customs are not the tradition, but ways of expressing the tradition.  Throughout the centuries the Church has always found new external expression to bring alive the ancient tradition.  Tradition then is the living and growing body of faith and belief, rooted in the past, but alive in the present and waiting to grow into the future.  It needs new expression to continually do this.  Here in Assisi today the 800 year old tradition of living the Gospel begun by Francis of Assisi in 1209 is very much alive in ways that Francis never could have dreamed of.  Francis himself began his movement as a new way of living the old faith. The friars, sisters and lay people who have followed him continue to do the same.

Basilica of OL of the Angels, Assisi

The Portiuncula inside the Basilica
   Today I rejoice in the fact that I prayed in a 15th century basilica that houses a 4th century chapel refurbished by a 13th century saint.  Most of all I rejoice that 20th century youth are there now keeping the whole thing very much alive.  As for myself I smile when friends comment to me that seeing a friar in his Franciscan habit holding an iphone is a shock to their senses.  I think it is very traditional.

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