'Repair my house'
By Jeanette DeMelo
“Go, Francis, repair my house, which you see is falling down.”
St. Francis of Assisi heard these words three times coming from Christ as he prayed before the crucifix at the Chapel of San Damiano.
Young Francis took the words literally and he physically reconstructed the dilapidated chapel in which he had been praying. In fact, he repaired three church buildings before he realized the task to which God was calling him was larger.
Francis found his true mission in Christ’s mandate: “And going, preach, saying the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. … Freely have you received, freely give.
Take neither gold nor silver nor brass in your purses … nor two coats nor shoes nor a staff. … Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Mt 10: 7-19).
Christ called Francis to be a dynamic force in renewing the Church, the body of Christ made up of the bishops, priests, religious, and laity. This mission was confirmed by Pope Innocent III, who dreamed he saw Francis holding up with his shoulder the walls of St. John Lateran Cathedral in Rome. Francis’ role was to preach. The witness of his words and his way of life brought to the Church simplicity, repentance, reconciliation, joy, and a spirit of sacrifice and generosity.
In Francis’ own life time the movement he began spread throughout Europe and the Middle East. He and his companions were witnesses of God’s love and mercy and mediators of peace in times of civil strife and religious tension. St. Francis’ life and mission has had continuous and lasting effect in strengthening the Church to this day—even in a particularly poignant way for us in Denver. It’s from the Franciscan tradition that Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, came to us and it is in the same spirit that he has also gone forth from us.
I am struck by the ways he has lived out the Franciscan call to “Go repair my house.” Francis rebuilt three churches. Archbishop Chaput has been given the opportunity to “repair” three of Christ’s “houses”—the dioceses of Rapid City, Denver and now Philadelphia. Perhaps Pope Benedict had a mystical glimpse of Archbishop Chaput holding up Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Philadelphia with his shoulder. Both the physical building and, even more so, the community are in need of tender love and care. Certainly Archbishop Chaput renewed Rapid City and Denver, leaving in both places a more robust Church and a house in good order.
I could easily recount Archbishop Chaput’s marvelous accomplishments, but that has been done in many an article in these last few weeks. Besides, to reduce archbishop's contribution to the Church to a quantified list of specific initiatives would be similar to seeing St. Francis’s work as literally rebuilding churches with bricks and mortar. The deepest way Archbishop Chaput has worked and will continue to work to rebuild the Church is that he calls each of us daily to renew our commitment to Jesus Christ, his teachings and his Church. He urges us constantly to embrace fully our Catholic identity and to live it in absolutely everything we do. Archbishop Chaput’s preaching often done through his writings, his use of digital technology and social media, and his vast personal communications via email, letters and pastoral meetings has brought so many people to conversion, a deeper love of Jesus Christ and to the living out of their own unique God-given mission.
On Sept. 8, when Archbishop Chaput sat for the first time in the cathedra of his new archdiocese, I saw the weight of the Church rest on him. Briefly, his shoulders sagged as he was filled with emotion. I have no doubt that at that moment Christ was renewing his call to this Franciscan Capuchin: “Go repair my house.” Archbishop Chaput said YES once again with a joy and enthusiasm that was visible through the remainder of the installation Mass. In his homily, he said he would pour himself out in love for his people:
“Whatever my weaknesses, (and they’re many) and whatever my lacks (and they’re many, too), no bishop will give himself more joyfully than I will to renewing this Church together. No bishop will try harder to help persons who have been hurt by the sins of the past. And no bishop will work harder to strengthen and encourage my brother priests, and restore the hearts of our faithful. And everything I’ve learned in my 24 years as a bishop and 41 years as a priest, and everything I have, I will give to this ministry, because all of you—the people of God entrusted to my care—deserve it, and I love you.”
Returning to my Denver office, I felt a little disoriented without the shepherd I have loved and worked with so closely for several years. I asked myself, Who have I been working for? A wonderfully gifted bishop, absolutely. But I know Archbishop Chaput would remind me for whom really I have been working—for Jesus Christ and his Church.
Archbishop Chaput by his example has taught me, and I hope all of us here in Denver, about unconditional, generous love and faithfulness to Christ and his Church. I pray that we may all take courage and find joy in sharing the mission of rebuilding God’s house—and may the work begin first in our own hearts.
Jeanette DeMelo is general manager of the Denver Catholic Register and communications director for the Denver Archdiocese.