Franciscan Sister Marsaia Kaster makes a Gaudete Sunday contrast of two saints: St. John the Baptist and St. Francis of Assisi. Her reflection follows as shared with the Appleton, Wisconsin St. Joseph Fraternity of Secular Franciscans. Images are provided from St. Francis Catholic Church, Ellsworth, Wisconsin. In 1960 Father Pritzl helped purchase land across the street from an already built school for a new church. Work began on October 15, 1961, and the church constructed of Lannon Stone was dedicated with many former priests as part of the ceremony of the present church that is used today. These stained glass windows beautify the interior of the building.
Prepare Ye the Way of the LORD!
This week we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. We are called to rejoice at Advent’s halfway mark toward Christmas. A visit to St. Francis Church, Ellsworth, Wisconsin, could find us contemplating two saints who lived lives totally focused on Jesus.
Looking at these images side by side, we see John the Baptist and St. Francis of Assisi. I am drawn to their eyes and bodily stance. The Baptist reaches upward with his whole being; every ounce of his energy, even from his mother’s womb, sought out the Messiah, recognized Jesus and joyfully responded to Jesus’ presence in Mary’s womb. A favorite author of mine, Leon Dufour, says of John, he “is more than a prophet…he inaugurates the gospel…” John was bold. He lived, proclaimed, and witnessed by his death, that “He – Jesus – must increase and I must decrease:” that the ways of the LORD, and His commands are right and beautiful.
The image of St. Francis portrays the same attitude of our need to decrease so that Jesus the Christ may be magnified. The artist portrays the profoundly contemplative nature of Francis, who, nonetheless, became the leader of a band of “friars minor,” and then a founder, with St. Clare, of the Poor Clares; and then the founder of a huge group of married and single people who wished to follow Francis! Humility, poverty, extreme love of the Crucified, did not keep Francis from being, like the Baptist, a PROPHET!
These two great saints were astounding! Although they shared very challenging messages with those who met them, that did not keep people from running after them! John and Francis lived their poverty and prayer authentically, opening their mouths to share the radical message of JESUS, and the difficult changes people needed to make in order to receive the message of the Gospel. One author (Sabatier) says of Francis: “No matter how much Francis reprimanded them, they were always edified by his words and they would either turn to the Lord or would repent inwardly.”
And for the Baptist, people flocked to him and were drawn to repentance and the joy of baptism, to become ready for the LORD who was coming!