As the insects, like the swans: Living the vow of obedience with a free spirit

I am in the woods on Mount Subasio above Assisi, Italy, at a sacred place of prayer called La Carceri. It’s July 20, 2014. I am on a pilgrimage, thrilled to be praying in this holy place where St. Francis and the early friars spent much time in contemplation.

I too am in contemplation on this holy ground. I am pondering what I just heard preached during the Mass, where our Franciscan pilgrimage group gathered around a stone altar underneath some tall trees.

Rays of Light through Tall Trees, La Carceri, Italy. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Rays of Light through Tall Trees, La Carceri, Italy. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

I was reminded that the path to holiness is a journey of struggle. Even though we’re living a religious life, we’re just as human as everyone else. And, when we’re real with ourselves, we can admit that much of our life is spent wrestling with the reality of our own frailty, our own sinfulness. St. Francis spent more than 200 days in hermitage each year, even while admitting that…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report.  Continue reading here.

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  1. Good to read this Sister Julia. Thank you. Reading your article was the second thing I’ve read recently in the Global Sisters Report. My good friend Margaret Wheatley also had a recent article posted there, “Leadership Lessons from Besieged Nuns.” (

    Your article, the section on Francis’ hermitage, reminded me of something a good friend / minister shared with me. We were talking about the value of retreat. He had done 30 day retreats. I loved what he said about his experience. “The first third is listening to your own chattering mind. The second third is listening to God talk to you. The last third is overhearing God and Jesus talking about you, and it is all love.”

    Thanks for continuing to reflect in such beautiful and transparent ways.

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