Had the term "consistent life ethic" already been coined by the early 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi likely would have cited it frequently based on his mutual concern with the CLE for the dignity of all human beings — particularly the underprivileged.
St. Francis’ influence was so pervasive that it carries on in many ways 800 years later, such as when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio opted to take the name Francis when he was elected pope to reflect his solidarity with the poor. The Franciscan way also is evident in a variety of ministries operated by the Franciscan Order — one of which is near and dear to Katie Horan, a native of St. Matthew Parish in Livonia.
Horan, 23, is in her second year ministering at the St. Francis Inn, an inner-city soup kitchen in Philadelphia. Although she admitted that "before I came here I had no idea who this guy ever really was," Horan said she’s come to realize she has much in common with St. Francis, whose feast day is Oct. 4.
"The strongest thing for me is that he was intentionally with the poor and humbled himself," said Horan, noting that as a young adult St. Francis renounced his comfortable lifestyle by shedding his clothes in front of his father and a large crowd. He spent his remaining years as a penniless man who treated popes and lepers equally; additionally, his love of nature and creation has earned him the distinction of the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals and the environment.
Horan began a one-year volunteer position with the Franciscan Volunteer Ministers in 2012 upon earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology from SUNY Potsdam. Her work in Philadelphia was so fulfilling — "I fell in love with the place," she said — that in September 2013 she returned for an additional year, this time as a full-time employee.
She acknowledged that working with Philadelphia’s urban poor is a drastic departure from her small-town upbringing, saying St. Francis Inn is situated in such a crime-ridden area that she has trouble getting taxi service — "it is nerve-wracking a bit" — and some wonder why she’d put herself in such a position. Her reasoning would surely warm the heart of St. Francis.
"The lives of these people, their circumstances are so difficult. You have to respect that they’re still human, they still have feelings. Just because you have less money doesn’t mean you’re not still human. You have to look past the addiction and prostitution and see their hearts, the goodness in every one of those people, and reach out and touch their lives," Horan said, adding that "it’s so much easier to make a connection with someone when you are living the same life as them."
Along with embracing the impoverished, Brother Edward Coughlin, OFM, a Franciscan scholar, said Franciscan ideals are linked to other aspects of the consistent life ethic. He noted, for instance, "the goodness of creation in the most vulnerable, whether it’s a fetus or an elderly person or a person on death row."
Brother Coughlin, who serves as vice president for Franciscan Mission at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, further cited St. Francis’ respect for all life based on the saint’s Fifth Admonition, which states: "Be conscious, O human being, of the wondrous state in which the Lord has placed you, for he created you and formed you to the image of his beloved Son."
He remarked that St. Francis’ priorities are being admirably lived out in the present day by Pope Francis, who has quickly gained a positive reputation as a man of simplicity who craves the opportunity to make personal connections with folks from all walks of life.
"He shows a great deal of humanity and humility. I think that goes a long way toward showing how people can be living together. That has a lot of roots in the Catholic Franciscan tradition. He seems to carry so much the spirit of St. Francis to those who are weak and vulnerable, and he’s happy there," Brother Coughlin said. "He shows a great sensitivity to pastoral needs, and there were endless examples of this from his first trip to South America (as pope)."
"I’ve personally been very impressed with the new pope — just his making personal phone calls, his face-to-face interaction, reaching out," Horan added.