Last week I was away for a few days, drove north to Washington DC where I stayed one night at our friar house of formation and then to Philadelphia, where I stayed at St. Francis Inn, where I used to live before I arrived here in Raleigh in August.
It was nice to see the friars and the sisters and the lay volunteers and be back in the old neighborhood. Not a lot has changed in the three months that I’ve been gone. I saw many of the guests who come to eat at St. Francis Inn every day, waiting outside for the gate to open for the daily serving of the meal. We had mass in the morning in the small chapel that is on the second floor of the Inn and as always, it’s a mix of regular volunteers along with people who live out in the streets, all together in our chapel which seats maybe 35-40 people. And every 10 minutes or so, as I remembered, the elevated subway goes by right outside the window of the chapel, on its way either to or from downtown Philadelphia. The chapel there is a place of deep grace amid the hard urban setting of the Inn.
I had a day free in the city and took the subway down to 30th Street Station, then walked along the Schuylkill River to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There is something about walking alongside a river in a big city, the way it catches the light of the sun even amid the traffic and high buildings. At the museum, you can climb the steps, the “Rocky steps” so known from Sylvester Stallone running up those same steps in “Rocky” and then look out over a spectacular view of the city. Inside the museum, there are treasures to be found: a sculpted head of Christ from 13th century France; a small painting on wood of St. Francis of Assisi, luminous against a deep black background, painted sometime around the 1280s, only 60 or so years after the saint’s death; an altar piece painted by Botticelli of scenes from the life of St. Mary Magdalene, all brilliant colors and lines and forms, painted more than five centuries ago in Italy and hanging on a wall now in a gallery in Philadelphia; a black and white photograph, in a special exhibition hall, of a close-up view of a fern branch, taken in Maine, in all its detail, including the small drops of water on the fern itself. One of the things we learn from artists is that there is much beauty to be found in the world and much of it comes from paying attention to what’s right around us. Artists can remind us of the original goodness of creation.
It’s nice to be away and it’s also nice to come back. This Thursday, of course is Thanksgiving Day and for those who are traveling out of town to visit family and friends, safe travels in the air or on the rails or the roads. A reminder, as well, that you can still sign up for a parish listening session – go to www.stfrancisraleigh.org and you can sign up for one of the sessions that will be offered over the next several weeks. Please note that these sessions are a chance for you to speak about your own experience of the parish. We have scheduled evening sessions, morning sessions, and some on Sunday afternoons. Each session will have a facilitator and also someone to take notes, and I will be present to listen.
Blessings to all on your week!