Followers of St. Francis: Marilyn Shea, OSF

A Blessed Peacemaker

Sister Marilyn Shea, OSF, grew up on a farm in Iowa, enjoying a wonderful balance of work and play.

“Some of my earliest memories include riding with my dad on the tractor, feeding calves, taming kittens, sitting outside on a summer night, identifying constellations and catching fireflies, cooking and gardening with my mom, listening to her sing and play the piano, picking wild strawberries, and making bouquets of violets, lilacs, and dandelions. Although I did not know St. Francis as a child, I had already imbibed the Franciscan spirit of finding God in all the beauty of creation as Francis did.”

In college, Sister Marilyn met a young sister back from her first year on mission, where she taught first grade. “She was obviously happy with her vocation and suggested that I, too, might like to teach. During the next two years, I met many other sisters and was impressed with the idea of teaching in a Catholic school. Gradually, I became aware of a deep desire and call to enter religious life.” Marilyn Shea, OSF

Today, Sister Marilyn is involved in several active ministries and has a passion for teaching the principles of “active nonviolence,” an idea she describes using the image of two hands.

“One hand is held up as if to say ‘stop,’ when confronted with violence or injustice. It is a sign of noncooperation and resistance against anything that causes ourselves or another to be unjustly treated.

“The other hand is held out as a welcoming gesture that says, ‘Although I will not tolerate
your violence or injustice, I am not against you.’ Active nonviolence is not simply avoiding violence, nor is it accommodating violence by allowing it to go on without comment. The challenge is to become more and more aware of the violence hidden in ourselves and in our society. This involves getting to know people who are discriminated against in our society, hearing their stories, acknowledging our complicity in injustice, and working to eliminate it.”

This commitment to nonviolence found a new outlet when Sister Marilyn worked with the Franciscan Action Network and the Unity Productions Foundation to develop a film about
the historic encounter between St. Francis and Sultan Al-Kamil of Egypt. “Instead of
following the call of the pope to fight in the Crusades, St. Francis crossed enemy lines in
an effort to bring peace,” Sister Marilyn says. “He found there a man equally willing to listen
and search for common ground. It is a classic story of interfaith dialogue that is so needed
at this time.”

The Sultan and the Saint premiered this spring and is slated to appear on public television on December 19. Sister Marilyn and her community in Clinton, Iowa, hope that the film will be a catalyst to help Christians and Muslims build relationships and learn from each other.

Peace and nonviolence are challenging topics, Sister Marilyn says. “Sometimes we have
a false notion of peace as the comfortable feeling we have when no one challenges our
thinking or questions our status as ‘good’ people.

“We often fail to recognize our own complicity in a system that gives advantages to some while keeping others disadvantaged. We need to be courageous enough to cross the lines that separate us from one another, to give up our fears, and break down the walls we build around ourselves.”

St. Francis of Assisi: Angry at Sin

“Righteous anger” is very tricky. My anger at someone else’s sin does not prove my

Francis once said: “Nothing should displease a servant of God except sin. And no matter
how another person may sin, if a servant of God becomes disturbed and angry because of
this and not because of charity, he is storing up guilt for himself” (Admonition XI).

As Matthew 7:3 tells us, a speck in someone else’s eye is much easier to see than a plank
in my own. —P.M.

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