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Welcome, Sister Fire: When St. Francis Needed a Band-Aid and Became Enlightened

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Welcome, Sister Fire?

I've heard stories and songs inspired by St. Francis praising "Sister Moon" and "Brother Sun" in his incredible "Canticle of the Sun," but "Sister Fire" sounds more like a '70s disco band than the prayerful words of a medieval saint.

Of course, everyone is talking about St. Francis of Assisi now that Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina has taken on the mantle of Francis' commitments to the poor and oppressed, the good care of creation and even his challenging commitment to go and "Repair the church."

In my reading this week I came across a fascinating story about St. Francis that speaks deeply to that last commitment to work toward the repair of an ailing church. This story is a challenge for us all.

Surprisingly, the story comes from a Zen scholar Shinichi Hisamatsu who illumines five moments from the life of St. Francis that depict moments of true enlightenment. Hisamatsu tells the story of Francis dealing with a painful and festering wound. Someone brought Francis a fiercely hot blade in order to sear the wound, cauterize it and bring healing.

St. Francis did not welcome the red-hot blade. When fear of that fiery hot blade set in, Francis dismissed those in the room with him. Then, the story goes, Francis sat and talked with the blade confessing to that knife his cowardice. Hisamatsu explains that Francis talked to that blade until he could muster up the invitation, "Welcome, Sister Fire." Not only did he take the heat, but he also relinquished all tears and cries of anguish.

Could this moment of enlightenment be a helpful image for the church today?

Crisis. Cowardice. Confessing. And then, calm.

In that moment, the deep wound was cauterized and ultimately healed.

What would it look like for the church today to "Welcome, Sister Fire!" In the midst of the deep wounds that fester not just in the Catholic church but in the wide spectrum of denominations, what would it look like to stare at the blade of truth and welcome its healing presence?

Five simple steps could bring healing:

Name the crisis.

Acknowledge our cowardice.

Confess the fears.

Pray for calm in the face of the blade of truth: that instrument that will bring pain, but ultimate healing.

And then, welcome the fire.