By Sister Sharon Havelak, OSF
Of all the words I typically would use to describe summer, profound wouldn’t be among them. But that’s exactly what this summer has been – incredible highs and lows, literally and figuratively, from dizzyingly mind- and soul-expanding heights to great depths.
Mid-May, I went on pilgrimage to Italy to experience places associated with the early growth of the Franciscan movement, places important after the death of St. Francis, as Franciscans struggled to chart their course in the world. We spent the first week next to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels at the foothills of Assisi, taking delicious daily side trips to Gubbio, Foligno, Cortona, Todi, Monteripido and Monteluca, mountain towns around the Umbrian Valley. As our hearts and minds took in the Franciscan stories, we were promised “legs of steel” as we hiked up and down the hillsides.
During the second week, we used Rome as our home base as we visited the surrounding hill towns of Lo Speco di Narni, Celano, Tagliacozzo, Bagnoregio, Viterbo, and Anagni. Our pilgrimage leader joked that St. Francis and his early followers were part mountain goat, and we felt the same as we took in the natural beauty, the art and architecture, the stories of the struggles of the fledgling movement, as the early friars and sisters carved out what it meant to be Franciscan in their era.
The deeper understanding of our Franciscan theology and spirituality and the struggles of the early Franciscans formed a perfect backdrop for me as our Sisters gathered in mid-June for our congregational meeting, to begin the process of shaping our future. Like our Franciscan ancestors, we had to ask ourselves “what it is that is ours to do” in light of our community demographics and the needs of our times. Those questions were examined even more deeply the following week. Our “God’s Extravagant Love” retreat with Sister Mary Beth Ingram CSJ focused on viewing our lives and our world through the Franciscan lens of Beauty. We left, challenged to look at ourselves and the world around us with an attitude of abundance, knowing ourselves as deeply loved and gifted by our God.
During the last part of July, I was again surrounded with beauty, this time the beauty of the Canadian Rockies, as Sister Nancy Surma and I went on our Jubilee trip. We walked mountains and glaciers; we walked along rivers and streams and waterfalls. Our eyes and hearts were filled with great beauty as we explored Vancouver, Jasper, Kamloops, Lake Louise, Banff and Calgary. Then, in August, it was off to the desert mountain beauty of Phoenix.
But there was another backdrop to all this. Early this year, our family learned that our sister-in-law’s eight-plus year-long struggle with cancer was coming to an end. As I wandered the world and experienced all this beauty and goodness, I could only hold her in my heart and pray that she would know her own beauty and goodness and would die peacefully, surrounded with love. Pauline died during the middle of my Canadian trip. I was blessed to be able to get to get to her funeral and celebrate her life and death with my family.
I haven’t had time to process much of this. I haven’t even had time to sort through the hundreds of photos that I took this summer! But I certainly will carry this summer as a milestone in my life, a time when my worldview widened, grew deeper and broader, and when I experienced a fullness of life I hope I can carry with me on the rest of my journey. Who knows where it will lead me?