Three saints and three spiritualities

September 17 is a day with many saints in the Catholic calendar.

For the Franciscans today is the feast of the stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi. In 1224, about this date, on Mount Alverno, Francis had a vision of Christ as a seraph and received the marks of the wounds of the crucified Christ in his body, the first recognized stigmatist in the history of the church. The wounds remind us of Francis’ great devotion to the Crucified Lord and his deep sense of a God who became incarnate as a poor man and suffered with and for us.

For Benedictines, today is the feast of St. Hildegaard of Bingen, a medieval nun who was recently declared a doctor of the church. This amazing woman wrote mystical treatises, based on visions she had since she was a child; she also composed hymns – both words and music – and wrote on herbal remedies and other topics. She is an example of the Benedictine charisms of contemplation and hospitality. Shortly before her death her convent gave sanctuary to a young man excommunicated by the church and buried him in their cemetery. For this the convent was placed under interdict which was finally lifted.

For Jesuits, today is the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine, also a doctor of the church. This early Jesuit taught and wrote in response to the controversies of his time, particularly in response to the Protestant Reformation. He sought God in all things and used his intellect to explain and defend the faith. But even after named a cardinal, he did not pull back from controversy. Much to the displeasure of  Pope Sixtus V, he held that the pope may not act regarding temporal matters except when they affect the spiritual order.

In a late work, The Art of Dying Well, he did not pull back from a pointed reflection on wealth, noting:

If anyone would contend that these superfluous goods are not to be given to the poor out of the rigor of the law, one cannot truly deny that they are to be given to them out of charity, for it matters little, God knows, whether one goes to hell for lack of justice or for lack of charity.

These three streams of spirituality have been a part of my life.

I spent several years in a Franciscan seminary in Callicoon, NY (high school and two years of college) and am now an associate of the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family (Dubuque). I studied at two Jesuit universities – finishing my undergraduate years at the University of Scranton and getting a Ph.D from Boston College. In addition, I have greatly profited from retreats with Jesuits, as well as from reading the work of the late Jesuit priest and friend Dean Brackley, The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times. At one point in my life, in grad school in the early 1970s, my faith was renewed by retreats at Mount Saviour Monastery, near Elmira, NY, where the monks live a very simple form of Benedictine life.

These three traditions have helped me deepen my faith and for this I have to thank God.


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