Franciscan thoughts in honor of St. Francis Day

St. Francis of Assisi (By Chris Light [Own work] [CC BY-SA 4.0 [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

In the Franciscan tradition, the four values are contemplation, poverty, minority, and conversion.

If those four Franciscan values were friends sitting around in a circle, I picture contemplation as the quiet one; poverty as the talker, expounding on her latest soup kitchen experience; minority as the one providing refreshments and meeting needs; and conversion as the eternal optimist, totally sure that anyone and everyone can change, no matter what. Plenty of canonized saints prove this out.

The word "conversion" comes from two Latin words, "con" and "versus." Conversion thus means "with a turn" in attitude, viewpoint or outlook. To Franciscans, daily conversion has the additional Gospel scope of working on interior change to conform one's thoughts and deeds to those of Christ.

I thought about that recently when I recalled being on my congregation's Leadership Team a few years ago. Our leadership terms of four years are actually "turns" so sisters do not monopolize that role over the years. That way, there's a conversion every four years. Religious orders generally have terms of leaders so that those elected "take a turn." St. Francis himself wasn't all that taken up with structure, as he preferred a simpler approach driven by Gospel living.

It ends up being a leap of faith to go over the proverbial cliff and land in a new role of leadership and oftentimes with a new residence or a new local community in order to do this new job. The blessings are not one's own doing; God's grace abounds. A leadership ministry affords many opportunities to listen, to be open, to not pre-judge, and to seek ways to engender unity and group harmony as well as to work on the interior part. Most of us are still working on these when a leadership term ends.

[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio.]

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