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Everyone loves St. Francis

Christina Mondi | Monday, October 8, 2012

Everyone loves St. Francis. When I mentioned his feast day on Facebook, Catholic and non-religious friends alike gave the thumbs-up. The dining halls baked cakes. There was a special Mass in the Basilica.
Besides being struck by the irony of the vanilla lambs, I sometimes worry that we romanticize Francis too much.
When a million movements claim him as their poster-boy, when we anchor statues of him in our gardens and imagine him dancing barefoot in the sun with the birds, we risk missing the point of what was really radical about him.
When St. Francis was about our age, he was coasting through life. He had it made. And then one day, while he was selling velvet in a crowded marketplace – as he’d done dozens of times before – he noticed a beggar sitting in the corner, ignored by every single person passing by.  
We all know the rest of the story: how Francis chased after the beggar, how he exchanged clothes with him and later denounced his father’s inheritance. That is awesome. But let’s rewind a bit.
The very first radical thing that Francis did, before he founded an order, cared for lepers, negotiated with a Sultan or whatever, was to see that man in the marketplace, to really see him, for the first time.
How many times had he sat there before, unnoticed amidst all the hustle-and-bustle? Francis may have been the very first person to see him for who he really was: not a beggar, but a man and a brother.
The next radical thing that Francis did was to run after him.
Francis was a lot like many of us: 20-something, well-off and well-educated. For him, there was no lightning from the sky or intellectual “aha!” moment. He just opened his eyes to what was smack-dab in front of him all along.
Not all of us can go to Appalachia for fall break, or make it to a soup kitchen every week. Some of us may always live and work in environments like that marketplace – Notre Dame is certainly one.
But the example of St. Francis challenges us to not use our circumstances as an excuse for not reaching out to others.
He challenges us to look more closely for those who are poor and tired around us – a friend going through a rough time, a worn-out housekeeper, a dorm-mate sitting alone in the dining hall – and to go out of our way not only to acknowledge them, but to love them.
In those little moments, we might become saints.
Take a look around!   
Christina Mondi is a junior with a major in psychology and a minor in Catholic Social Tradition and Science, Technology, and Values. She can be reached at cmondi@nd.edu
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.