By Sister Ann Carmen Barone, OSF
Lent was never my favorite liturgical season. It was long, even though Sundays aren’t counted as part of the forty days of Lent. The music was somber and the repertoire was limited. I often wished that the song God Who Throughout These Forty Days would become God Who Threw Out These Forty Days.
Eventually, I grew into Lent and it fed my Franciscan soul. Francis is indeed described as the joyful troubadour, the preacher who talked to the birds and the poet who sang the Canticle of the Creatures. But he is also the saint who owned his own sinfulness before a loving God and the leader who equated perfect joy to being ignored and mistreated, thrown out and betrayed, slandered and ostracized.
Francis was the man who followed Christ with conversion, contemplation, poverty and minoritás as guides.
As Ash Wednesday approached this year, including a morning and noon liturgy and the “spring” meeting of the Lourdes University Board of Trustees, I was praying for an inspiration for my mission presentation for the trustees. Inspiration on demand is never a sure thing. The deadline neared and one word popped into my head – signature. No, not the bank. And the pieces fell together.
The Tau Cross is an important Franciscan symbol. It is a letter of the Greek alphabet and looks like a T. It is also in the Hebrew alphabet and refers to a cross. The Prophet Ezekiel tells of God’s anger at the inhabitants of Jerusalem who were committing all kinds of abomination. They were all to be slain. No mercy was to be shown.
But those marked with the Tau, the sign of conversion – turning to God, living God’s ways and doing penance—were to remain untouched. Francis quickly adopted the Tau as his signature. Wherever he went to contemplate, do penance or to seek guidance for his mission he signed the spot with a large Tau. You can follow the path of his conversion by discovering his Tau signature on the walls.
Signatures are important. They tie us to a family, a heritage. You need a signature for legal purposes. You sign checks and important legal documents. Some people give autographs and some autographed items, like baseball cards, bring in a hefty profit when sold.
I remember practicing different signature styles when I began signing my new religious name. Which one fit me? Which one provided the “perfect” image? Which one flowed naturally? John Adams signed the Declaration of Independence with a flourish to be sure King George could read it. Michelangelo stole in at night and carved his name on a diagonal band on the Pieta because people did not believe he had done it. Yes signatures and their style are important. They remind us who we are and the heritage behind the name.
So Lent is a season that gives each of us an opportunity to put our signature on it. Francis and his Tau became of signature for every season. What is our signature for Lent?
Will we be identified as women of peace and seekers of justice? Will our signature be acts of kindness to the lonely and those whom others ostracize? Will our signature be creating an environment of hospitality?
Like Francis can we be signed with the Tau and return to the Lord and inspire others to do the same.
Image: St. Francis’ Tau cross signature at the Fonte Colombo monastery in the Rieti Valley where he spent considerable time when he was away from Assisi.