The TAU is in the form of the Greek letter TAU (T), which is in the shape of a cross.
The two major influences for Francis, in relation to the TAU, were the Antonians and the Fourth Council of the Lateran. Saint Francis got the TAU and it’s meaning from the Antonians. They were a male religious community, founded in 1095, whose only job was to care for the lepers.
In their habit was painted a great cross. Francis had a familiar relationship with them, because they worked in the Assisi’s leprosarium, in the St. Blase hospital in Rome where Francis went to stay.
At the beginning of his conversion, Francis found the Antonians and their symbol of the TAU. But the strongest influence which made the TAU so significant to Francis, and which turned it into Francis’ signature was the Council of the Lateran. The historians generally agree that Francis was present in this Council, where Pope Innocent III gave the opening speech, incorporating in his homily the passage from Ezekiel (9,4) which says that the elected, the chosen ones will be marked with the sign of the TAU: “Pass through the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and mark an X on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the abominations practiced within it.” He adds, “The TAU is the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and it’s shape looks like a cross, the exact shape of the cross that our Lord was crucified on, before it was fixated with Pilate’s writing. The TAU is the symbol that men marks on their foreheads when – as the apostle sayd – they crucify their body with sins when they say: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (…) Therefore, be masters of this cross!
Be champions of the TAU!
When Innocent III finished his homily with, “BE CHAMPIONS OF THE TAU!” Francis took these words as a personal statement and made the TAU his own symbol, the symbol for his order, of his signature, asked for it to be painted everywhere, and had a great devotion to it until the end of his life.
Basically, the TAU represent the CROSS. The Councils of the Church were invited to reform the church, leaders and members. Leading to the main topic of the reform: personal, interior, constant conversion and a change in life. Those who compromised themselves with the constant conversion, a life of constant penance , where to be marked with the TAU.
For Francis the TAU is a sign of a sure salvation; it is the sign of the universality of salvation and it is the symbol for constant conversion.
If you allow yourself to be marked by the TAU or you use the TAU, you are saying that you’re compromised to the constant conversion, that is the theme of the Franciscan Spirituality. This does not mean that you are converted for good, all at once, but in your day-to-day, month after month, year after year, you fixate your eyes on the Lord, and you make that your only goal, and you walk towards him with your undivided attention (Letter S. Mary Margaret, Oct, 1989).
The TAU is a sign of the elected, who God calls to carry out a mission. Following the example of Francis, we are aware of this and we want to accept this calling, the election that God gives to us.
We carry a seed from St.Francis in our hearts as a vocation, as a community, this is why the TAU is also a sign of our election for us and to the world. (Moyses Azevedo Filho, IN. Maná – Sept/Oct 1990).
In the Shalom vocation, each element of the TAU has a special significance:
- They are made out of wood and are crafted by us, as a sign that we desire to live in poverty, in the Work and from the Work (RVS); to live by what the Lord does through our hands, from our work;
- It is tied with a cord made of thread so that we may be reminded, as St. Teresa advises, to be the stronghold of our vocation, a reminder that “all will pass. Only God is enough”;
- As it was adopted by St. Francis, it is a sign of the importance of this saint in our vocation;
- It contains the Hebrew letters “SHALOM” engraved in it, meaning that the peace which we seek to be ministers and disciples of, is the plenitude of Peace, in the Hebrew meaning of the word;
- The word “SHALOM” being written on the cross (TAU), represents that Jesus is the Peace;
- “SHALOM” is written on the TAU with fire (pyrography) symbolising God’s irreversible choice in us and the vocation which is engraved with fire in our hearts.Every time we take the TAU off or we put it on, we kiss it saying: “Thank you Lord, for having chosen me”.
Taken from the book ‘Praying with the Bible and Saint Francis of Assisi’