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astagnesThis morning I find myself considering the concept of inspiration, a word that, in itself, has a complex history and many different – if related – meanings. It comes from the Latin inspiratus, the past participle of a verb that means to breathe into. In a concrete way, it tells us how we get air into our lungs which is, of course, the basic necessity for living. I found what I was looking for, however, in the answer to an internet question that asked, “What does it mean when someone says, You are my inspiration?” Here is what it said.

The definition of inspiration is “the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions; a person, place, experience, etc. that makes someone want to do or create something.” (Merriam-Webster)

My religious congregation, The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, like many others around the world, have seen significant change over the years, the inspiration for which has been a mix of necessity and response to needs. The most significant impetus for the change in my lifetime was the dictum of the inspired Second Vatican Council (1962-65) which called us to go back to the spirit of our founders and bring that vision to expressions appropriate to the modern world. This effort has initiated monumental changes over the past 50 years and continues to enlighten us about the mission that we have been given. We are often reminded of the six women who sat in a kitchen in Lepuy, France in 1648 discussing the needs of their immediate world and then went out to divide their city in response to those needs. Now we are everywhere in the world, doing our best through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to do the same.

Today we celebrate Agnes of Assisi, the younger sister of Clare, who followed St. Francis in 1221 and gathered around herself women of like mind. I was amazed as I read the list of places to which Clare sent her sister Agnes (beginning at the age of 24!), cities throughout Italy and then Spain. And that was just the beginning. By the turn of the century (1300) the foundations had spread to France and then jumped the Channel to England and beyond.

We often characterize the Holy Spirit as a fire – a great passion of love that moves people to great things – or small things in a great way, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta characterized possibility for most of us. I wonder at the greatness of heart of young women like Clare and Agnes and those who caught the call of God beaming out from their lives and followed. Where does that fire exist today and how can we fan the flames? How can any group of us make it our task to create together and to inspire others in the name of love?