News & Commentary

Editorial: Following St. Francis of Assisi into the New Year

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There is something about words that inspires us, especially when they come from people we look to for insight, wisdom, or guidance. St. Francis is someone whom people often turn to for inspiring words—even though he actually didn’t say some of the ones frequently attributed to him. But the words he did speak provide a good source of inspiration for our own lives. As we head into the new year, his words can guide and challenge each of us in different ways.

‘Let Us Begin Again’

Those words were spoken by St. Francis as he was nearing death. They were followed by the second part of that quote, “for until now we have done nothing,” with the understanding that we are on a constant journey throughout our lives. That is especially true of our faith, which continues to change and grow along the way.

As this year comes to a close, many people will probably be spending time taking stock of where they have been over the course of the past year. Based on that, many will then look ahead and make a list of ways to improve in the coming year. Study after study shows, however, that many of those New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside by the end of January, never to be taken back up.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. As Catholics, the idea of beginning again should be very familiar to us. After all, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is all about that. We inevitably are going to fail. We are flawed beings. But when we recognize those missteps and failures through reconciliation, we once again begin our journey toward Christ.

So, when we fall offtrack in our lives—whether it be with our faith or resolutions—we should remember the words of St. Francis and “begin again.” —Susan Hines-Brigger

‘What You Are Before God’

Although St. Francis of Assisi was recognized as a very humble man, that was not always the case. Perhaps he explained it best in Admonition XIX to his friars: “What you are before God, that you are and nothing more.” In all fairness, we can certainly add “and nothing less.”

In a sense, every virtue flows from living the full truth about ourselves, and every sin is a failure to live in the same truth. Humility does not require lying to oneself, and sin always exaggerates some partial truth (for example, I might want a certain job, and it is this person’s fault that I don’t yet have it). We are always more than our greatest achievements or our worst sins.

The same is true for everyone else! In 2024, will we live in the whole truth about ourselves? We’re always more than our disappointments, illnesses, family conflicts, or the deaths of loved ones. Likewise, all our blessings ultimately come from God. Whenever we live in the whole truth about God, ourselves, and others, we live in the freedom that God always intended us to enjoy. This side of heaven, we cannot know the whole truth about God, but we can know enough of it to live out our God-given freedom.

Genuinely humble people are the world’s greatest realists. We deserve at least that much—and nothing less. —Pat McCloskey, OFM

‘Happy Those Who Endure In Peace’

The above is from St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Creatures,” and it continues with, “By you, Most High, they will be crowned.” As we enter into an election year, my wish is for an end to the bitter divisiveness in our nation. Though I fear that this unstable political climate is the new normal.

As some of our leaders push to the extremes of the political spectrum, there is a quiet yearning in our nation to return to calmer times. It might not make for splashy headlines, but, by and large, people want to get along with their families again, despite their differences. I’ve had countless conversations with family, friends, and others from both sides of the aisle who are, more than anything, fatigued.

Simply reading through comments online dampens not only my mood but also my outlook on the health of our society. And yet the words of St. Francis’ “Canticle” continue to gently remind us: There is another way.

As important as it is to repair the divisions that have fractured families along party lines, it is equally important to urge our leaders to do the same. Perhaps it’s time that they follow our lead. —Daniel Imwalle

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