Co-conspirators with Francis and Clare

Image credit: “Handstand!” South Dakota, January 2010, Dave B CC .

St. Francis of Assisi was God’s holy fool.

Praying before the crucifix inside the dilapidated San Damiano chapel, he heard Christ say, “Rebuild my Church.” He begged for stones to fix nearby crumbling chapels, thinking he found his mission. Once it dawned on him what God really meant, that the Church needed reform, a Franciscan movement was born. Its mission? Simply to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I am a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, a modern Franciscan. Like St. Francis and his co-conspirator St. Clare, my sisters and I follow the Gospel by rejecting wealth, power, violence, and privilege. And, trust me, some people are quite sure we are on a fool’s errand.

St. Francis’s actions were seen as wild – and even sometimes silly – back in the early 13th century. He kissed lepers. He stripped naked. He braved battle zones. He insisted that plants and animals are our relatives, as we are all made by God, which was seen as particularly laughable.

We modern Franciscans don’t strip naked or kiss strangers, but we do challenge the status quo. To uncover the truth of history and to heal the harm we’ve caused, we work to deinstitutionalize and unveil white supremacy. To outsiders, our joy and hopefulness in this work might look ridiculous . . . never mind our celibacy, commitment to communal life, and our daily choice to move toward those from whom others may (wisely) turn away. These actions likely might make us look naïve or, yes, foolish.

I often say to myself: “To follow Jesus, walk on your hands.”

To me this acrobatic, almost comical image means that following Jesus requires abandoning practicalities, logic, and fear. It can be awkward and leave us off balance, and it requires a playful engagement with the world. Being a Franciscan Fool for Christ is about loving the upside-down kingdom. It’s the way we try, simply, to live the Gospel.

Julia Walsh is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration who is part of The Fireplace Community in Chicago. She blogs and podcasts at

Issue 64

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 64, Spring 2022, The Holy Fool.

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Issue 64, Spring 2022

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