You have changed me, O God, and all the things I once so longed for, the things I pursued with such ignorant devotion, I see now as meaningless. Riches, the acclaim of friends, the honour of the elite, all of these are vanity, and I consider them loss. But where do I go from here? What do you desire of me? What would you make of this life? When I claimed it as my own, I laid claim to it falsely, O Lord. It is yours, my Jesus. It always has been.
I desire only to please you, to serve you, to love you. But there is much darkness in my heart. There is much inside it that is unknown to me. There is faith, but it is haunted by doubt. There is hope, but it is faltering. There is love, but it bears the flaws of selfishness.
Only the consonants of his whispered prayer could be heard in the vacant church. A cool breeze blew through its broken stone walls. Prayers offered here were few now, the pastor who had let him in a shepherd of almost none. The cross, hanging by rusted chains from the fractured ceiling, swayed slightly in the wind. The quiet sound of the creaking chains took his eyes to the strange crucifix, and he was reminded of all that so recently had died within him.
The young soldier, fighting for the honour of his city, had died after a year as a prisoner of war.
The socialite, the life of the party, had died after a year of debilitating illness.
And the crusader, fighting for the glory of God, had died before he even reached the enlistment centre.
What was left was a broken young man whose heart had been awakened to something divine, but whose soul’s compass could find no bearing.
His knees were sore from kneeling–he had been here for hours–but he wasn’t finished yet. His eyes were fixed on the cross above him. It was a crucifix unlike most others that he’d seen. It was foreign in its iconography, in the style of the churches of the East. Angels and apostles crowded at the Christ’s feet, by his side and at his head. Francis’s eyes read the figures like a story, and he saw himself in each one. Betrayer, sinner, repentant friend, and worshiper. Blood flowed softly from the palms of Christ, and from his side, a small fountain poured forth. His eyes remained on that little fountain for a long time. A small centurion was pictured at the side of Christ, and Francis saw in him an image not unlike himself: a small bird, stretching out his neck, desperate to fill his gullet with life.
And now, he looked into the eyes of Jesus. They were large and steady and gentle and strong. He looked at the mouth of Jesus. This Christ’s lips, too, were different from those on any icon he’d yet seen, though he could not at first identify how. Folded hands to his own lips, he squinted a little longer at the mouth of Jesus.
Jesus was smiling.
From the cross, he was smiling. Perplexed, Francis looked to the Christ’s head, expecting a crown of thorns. But they were absent. Only a halo encircled his head. And then something came dawning on him like sun through a window. Of course there was no crown of thorns. Of course he was smiling. The Christ which rested on this cross was not the Crucified One, but the Risen One. His arms were outstretched not in crucifixion, but in welcome. This Christ was alive, and giving life to his beloved.
The glorious, risen, joyful Christ smiled down upon him from his now beautiful cross. Francis smiled back, and a prayer came flowing from his very soul, rolling like a river from his lips.
“Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart! Give me right faith, sure hope and perfect charity. Fill me with understanding and knowledge that I may fulfill your command.”
He stared in silence at the risen Jesus. He was wordless now, joyously, peacefully wordless. His anxiety lay on the floor beneath him like a shed garment. The two figures remained, their eyes locked in the steady gaze of love. He could not later recount how long he had knelt there, staring at him, when that Jesus’ pleasant lips parted.
“Francis,” he said, “go and rebuild my church, which, as you can see, is falling into ruin.”