As we celebrate the feast of St. Francis this week, many will recall the vision he had from Jesus on the cross in the Church of San Damiano telling him to “Rebuild My Church.” St. Francis took this literally, and began to rebuild the small church where he was praying, but then later realized it was meant for a bigger purpose – to rebuild the human Church – the Body of Christ.
Yet there was also another saint in Francis’ age involved in rebuilding the Church – St. Dominic. And another vision of rebuilding, this one given to Pope Innocent III, in support of both of these men.
Sometime after his vision, St. Francis needed to travel to Rome to seek the Pope’s approval to establish the Franciscan order. Pope Innocent was not initially in favor, but approved Francis’ Rule of Life in 1209.
St. Dominic likewise traveled to Rome to seek approval in establishing his religious community – now known as the Dominicans or the Order of Preachers. Again, Pope Innocent was not in favor, but eventually approved his request in 1216.
What was it that seemed to change Innocent’s mind and reverse his initial decision to deny both of these orders? There are numerous legends surrounding a prophetic dream he had, and both Franciscans and Dominicans claim it as their own today. Others say there were two separate dreams, one for each order.
However, the basic story remains the same – Pope Innocent was concerned with the state of the Church during his time and prayed fervently for the Lord’s intercession. One night he had a dream in which he saw the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Pope’s own church, falling over into ruins. Suddenly, a figure came to hold up the building, preventing it from falling over. This figure had the appearance of a friar, a poor man in service to the church.
As it can describe both Francis and Dominic, and both orders did serve the Church faithfully and help build her up during this time of turmoil, Pope Innocent’s dream did indeed turn out to be prophetic. Whether it was a specific friar he saw, or whether God was just showing him the value of all faithful religious orders, is not necessarily a debate we need to solve in order to find inspiration in this story.
Pope Innocent saw a need in the Church and prayed for God’s intervention. Because of this dream, he chose to act by approving the rules of life for both the Franciscan and Dominican orders. Over 800 years later, these orders continue to follow the Lord and serve His people. May we all turn to God as Innocent did, and act in faith, following however the Lord chooses to lead us.
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