Firewood for the Soul: Embrace

by | Mar 25, 2024 | Formation, Reflections | 1 comment



Like most of his contemporaries, Francis of Assisi felt a contempt for lepers and avoided them at all costs. One day, before his conversion, Francis was riding his horse alone in the countryside. As he moved along the road, he caught sight of a leper walking toward him. Francis’ instinct was to turn back or move off to the side to avoid contact with the leper; but Francis instead rode directly toward this man with this dreaded disease. Francis dismounted his horse, and warmly embraced the leper.

Later Francis wrote, “When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure; but then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them. When I had once become acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me became a source of physical consolation for me.” When Saint Francis looked at the lepers, he saw them as made in God’s image with God’s presence within them.

Francis soon found himself living with lepers and caring for them. His meeting and embracing the leper was the best preparation Francis could have had for the founding of a new order in the Church, the Franciscans, whose ideal was to serve the poorest of the poor. Also, it is significant that as Francis showed mercy to the lepers, he came to experience God’s own gift of mercy to himself. As he cleaned the lepers’ bodies, dressed their wounds, and treated them as human beings, his way of looking at things changed. He experienced a kind of spiritual rebirth and healing. In a sense he recognised there was a leper within himself that was embraced by God’s presence.

As with Francis, deep within each of us lives a leper.

We must first embrace the leper inside ourselves if we are to accept others. Accepting that we are embraced by the God within us, we are encouraged to see the divine presence in those we meet.

In Luke’s Gospel chapter 17, the lepers sensed that Jesus would accept them where others rejected them. They knew they were lepers, but they trusted that Jesus was a channel for God’s compassion.

Only the Samaritan returned to thank Jesus for healing him. So, do we accept that we all have some spot or weakness in need of healing? We are invited to approach God from a position of powerlessness and simply pray with the lepers: “Jesus! Master!

Take pity on us.” Can we name some of the healings that have happened in our life through faith in a loving presence within us? How have we returned thanks to God for those healings?

Finally, we might ask ourselves: “Who are the lepers in our society today?” Would they not include the ones who feel rejected, the ones who feel they do not belong, the ones who feel they are outsiders and not insiders? Let us consider some possibilities!

People who are different from us? People who are refugees? People who are down on luck and who need food vouchers to get by? People who do not agree with us on war, on climate change, and on other social and political issues? People whose relationships may be judged by others? People who have suffered abuse or violence? People of advanced age who feel isolated and forgotten by children?


Do we embrace and love these and other people as Jesus did in his time?

From: Firewood for the soul, vol. 1, A Reflexion Book for the Whole Vincentian Family
St. Vincent de Paul Society, Queensland, Australia.
Text by: Samantha Hill.

1 Comment

  1. Sr. Cecilia Van Zandt

    Learning to embrace someone whose ideas do not agree with mine is a new way of seeing for me
    . Upon reflection, however, it is something I believe St. Vincent would encourage me to do.