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Celebrating the Feast of Saint Francis

On October 4, the Catholic Church celebrates the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, a saint who is “known” to every Catholic, I believe. I suspect the image of Francis that most people conjure up is that of a monk in brown robes, surrounded by all sorts of God’s creatures and communing with them. Yet, when I worked at Marian University a few years ago and had the extraordinary privilege of being a faculty member chosen to go on a pilgrimage to Assisi, I learned so much more about Francis (and Clare). I spent those days (and many more), integrating that experience into our Sisters of Providence spirituality. I have to say, much of what Francis believed is, indeed, part and parcel of what we espouse.

Francis grew up in a family of nobility, loved the noble life, and dreamed of being a knight. Then, because of a series of dreams he had, he began to abandon the life of luxury. After his conversion, Francis began to embrace all of creation as precious, rejecting material accumulation and personal comforts in deference to “Lady Poverty.” His Canticle of the Sun (also known as Praise of the Creatures) was, in a sense, a statement of Francis’ theology. Francis believed that everything in the natural world was a gift from God and thus, deserved to be valued, appreciated, and respected. Just how much he reverenced creation can be construed from his terminology in the Canticle, in which he referred to the sun, wind, air, and fire as his brothers, and to the moon, stars, earth, water, and death as his sisters. I can’t help but wonder: What if every one of us who inhabit Earth had the same reverence for creation that Francis exhibited? Would the climate change issues be so critical? Would catastrophic weather events be so prevalent? Would our oceans be rife with plastic? I think Saint Francis would be right there with us, advocating for all of us to reduce our carbon emissions and make “green choices” so that all of creation on Earth can thrive.

It also dawned on me that Saint Francis of Assisi was a “pioneer,” if you will, in understanding intersectionality. He didn’t call it that, but he spent his life reaching out to the poor and to the lepers, and understood that they were a part of God’s creation who were victimized by those who “have.” On our pilgrimage, probably the most powerful moment for me was our visit to La Maddalena, one of the very small chapels that remains from the six leprosaria that existed outside Assisi. These leprosy colonies were outside the gates of Assisi, at the bottom of the hill on which Assisi rests. Because there were no sewage systems at the time, the poor lepers suffered not only from the physical disease of leprosy, but also from the effects of living outside the gates at the bottom of the hill. As I knelt in the chapel where Francis and the lepers had gathered and prayed, as I touched those walls and prayed for all people who are outcasts, the phrase “down and out” took on a whole new meaning for me. I just stood and wept … and continue to fill with tears every time I recall that moment. I ask myself: How am I complicit in creating a “caste” of people who are “down and out?” How can I/we understand, and help others to understand, the links between the choices we make as “those who have” (in comparison to most of Earth’s people) and the suffering of those who are “down and out?” What do I/we need to do to better understand how our choices relative to environment disproportionately affect the most vulnerable: Women, children, the economically poor, people of color? What can I/we do so that all of humankind and all of creation are reverenced and valued as Francis did? I can’t help but believe that if our hearts were so totally converted, as Francis allowed his to be, Earth might be an entirely different world!

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Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp

Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. She currently serves on the Congregation leadership team. Previously she ministered as a teacher and administrator at the secondary and university levels.

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7 Comments

  1. Donna Butler on October 4, 2018 at 8:12 am

    Jeanne,
    Thank you for this reflection of your powerful experience. Thank you for the challenges it offers to me/us for being more aware of and responsive to those who do not have the same privileges or abundance of material possessions. There is so much I take for granted.

  2. Denise Wilkinson on October 4, 2018 at 8:21 am

    Jeanne – what a reflection! And what powerful memories for you to treasure and share. May our friend Francis guide our footsteps, our decision-making, our hearts. Denise

  3. Anji S.P. on October 4, 2018 at 8:53 am

    I learned a lot about St. Francis at Oldenburg Academy. This school year the theme for Franciscan Values is Dignity of Each Person.. Thank you for the reflection! Anji

  4. Eileen Hammersmith on October 4, 2018 at 10:50 am

    Hi Sister Jeanne, This is Eileen, Sister Margaret’s niece. I always love reading your blog posts! It’s not as awesome at the Woods, but I love to go for walks on the grounds of the Wheaton Franciscans, near where I live. They have a really cool statue of St Francis with the stars, moon, sun in his hands. They have a lot of cool concerts and retreats there also. I went to a retreat there a few months after Sister Margaret died. It was lead by Sister Georgene, and I was telling her about the Sisters of Providence. And she said that she knew some Sisters of Providence. And I was waiting for the elevator when I left, and I saw a little dish of red and white peppermint candy. The same exact kind that Sister Margaret gave me every time I gave her a ride somewhere!

  5. Carol Nolan, S.P. on October 4, 2018 at 11:21 am

    Thank you so much, Jeanne! I reminds me that my “sewer stuff” might well be the cause of an increase in the suffering of those whi through no fault of their own are at the bottom of the system.

  6. Paula Damiano, SP on October 4, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    thanks….this was my meditation for today, the feast of Francis! Your perspective on Francis’ spirituality was so meaningful.

  7. Paula Modaff, S.P. on October 4, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Jeanne,
    It always has seemed ironic to me that Francis, who kept absolutely nothing material for his personal use, had such a deep love and respect for all of existence–another case of less being more. Thank you for making this Feast so meaningful for me and countless others.

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