It was a beautiful autumn sunrise, as the gentle breeze swept through the rolling hillside. Saint Francis found himself in a mystical display of glory, as brightly colored auburn and scarlet leaves fluttered through the brisk morning air. As he traveled north in the direction of Assisi, he noticed a decapitated stone church in a clearing through the thicket.
Turning aside from the path he had been following, he carefully trod through a lush meadow of wetland grass to investigate. Cautiously, he approached the heavy wooden doors that sealed the southern entrance. As he pressed against them, the weathered wood and rusty iron hinges began to groan with an ancient-sounding screech.
From inside the church, Francis could hear the sound of pigeons taking flight through the holes in the roof. Moving through the cobwebs that were stretched across the entrance of the door, he noticed a magnificent crucifix. Brilliant rays of sunlight were streaming through the holes in the roof and illuminating the Savior’s redemptive work on the cross.
Kneeling down before the crucifix, Saint Francis began to pray, “O great and glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my mind. Grant me enduring faith, certain hope, and perfect charity. Help me to embrace the depths of your love, that in all my ways, I may accomplish your good and perfect will.”
Looking up at the crucifix, Francis heard a voice calling out to him, “Francis, rebuild my church. As you can see, it is falling down!”
Immediately, Francis rose from the cold granite floor and went to work. He gathered his friends together and started repairing the breached walls of San Damiano chapel with stone and mortar. He worked hard all day cutting roof timbers, repairing the stained glass windows, and expelling the wind and rain with new roof tiles.
During this time, Pope Innocent the third had a prophetic dream in which he witnessed the walls of the great Lateran Basilica, the symbol of the universal Church, slowly falling down. Before the utter collapse of the structure, a man wearing a simple habit, rushed to support the church to prevent its downfall.
After completing the repairs to San Damiano chapel, Francis and his band of brothers set out to Rome to ask the Supreme Pontiff’s permission before founding a new religious order. Upon seeing Francis, Pope Innocent recognized him as the same man in his dream. He eagerly blessed Francis and his followers, knowing they would go forth to awaken a greatly needed revival.
After restoring two more chapels on the outskirts of Assisi, Francis soon realized that his calling to rebuild the Church far exceeded the task of reconstructing dilapidated buildings. He soon realized that God wanted him to reform the spiritual life of the Church, to strengthen the priesthood, to empower the laity—to ignite the fire for revival.