Franciscan Feast of Our Lady of the Angels of Portiuncula

Readings for the Portiuncula

In the same way we also, when we were not of age, were enslaved to the elemental powers of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption.

Below the city of Assisi, in the Umbrian Valley and close by the train station, is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels, known as the Portiuncula. This enormous building is said to be the fifth largest church in the world.

It's even more unusual than its size for it houses a smaller building. Masters of preservation and restoration, the ingenious Italians removed the little chapel from its original site, built an enormous church and then placed the chapel inside it, on its original site. This is where Saint Francis of Assisi died and where the Franciscan Order was born. Although he owned nothing and insisted upon our owning nothing, he also told us never to leave this sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels.

Gifted as a prophet, Francis felt the presence of Mary and the Angels in the Little PortionSaint Paul mentions these "elemental powers of the world" in his letter to the Galatians, reminding his readers that you "were enslaved" to them. Whether we were enslaved by the Law of Moses and governed by sympathetic angels, or enslaved to our carnal passions and hostile demons, we now find elemental powers -- the angels -- worshipping God with us. There are choirs of them singing all around us.

When we think of the angels we think of the marvelous freedom of God's children. Saint Francis knew that freedom deeply as he disowned every kind of material property and all social standing. He would know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. He never had to lock the house before he left, or check his credit and bank accounts before he bought something. (He never bought anything!)  If he could not fly like the angels he moved as freely. He would have loved Chesterton's quip, Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.

Throughout the world today pilgrims will make their way to "portiunculas," holy places where they can receive the favor of God's gracious indulgence. Although we can neither fly with the angels nor learn that fine art of taking ourselves less seriously, we will sing with them nonetheless. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

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