A Special Place

Feast of Our Lady of the Angels of the Portiuncula

Exodus 34:29-35; Matthew 13:44-46

I’m privileged to have been able to visit, pray and celebrate Eucharist at the Portiuncula, which is located inside the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi.  At the same time, I’ve also felt a certain spiritual as well as cognitive dissonance.  The little chapel seems almost like a dollhouse shrine engulfed by the immensity, grandeur, noise and movement of the basilica.  Wouldn’t it be an even more powerful symbol and place of encounter with God if it was outside, perhaps as part of a courtyard like the beautifully simple St. Joan of Arc Chapel at Marquette University in Milwaukee?

Yet even inside the less-than-Franciscan majesty of the Basilica and all of the commerce, tourist traffic and popular devotion surrounding it, the Portiuncula is still a special place.  People seem to be drawn to it, perhaps first by curiosity and the riot of colors in its interior but soon by the spiritual power that seems to pulse from it.  Once inside, one can feel the presence of St. Francis and the early friars. It was here that, like Moses on Mt. Sinai, they personally encountered God.  It was here that, in the their life of simplicity, prayer, silence and service to each other and to the poor and marginalized they found the treasure they were seeking, the pearl of great price, an experience of the Kingdom of God. 

St. Francis told his brothers, “Never leave this place.”  For generations of Franciscans since, it has remained special.  It is home. –JC