What started as a day when Sr. Julia Walsh planned to revisit some favorite childhood memories ended with her in an emergency room due to traumatic injuries sustained in a fall that could have killed her. As with many instances of suffering, this one led Sr. Julia to reflect on her life and faith. She shares her story in the memoir, “For Love of the Broken Body,” and we discussed it recently on “Christopher Closeup.”

Shortly after entering the novitiate for the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration at age 25, Sr. Julia learned that her parents were selling the farm in Iowa on which she and her siblings grew up. The prospect of that loss made Sr. Julia want to return to her old home one last time to “pray my goodbyes” and come to terms with the new direction her life was taking. While she was there, she decided to climb down a cliff to go swimming in the creek below. It was something she had done many times as a child, without incident. But not this time.

Sr. Julia recalled, “As I climbed down, one of the rocks I stepped on crumbled, and I fell face first, maybe 15, 20 feet. My hand went up to my forehead. It protected my skull, so my knuckle and my wrist were broken. Then, everything from my eyebrows to my jaw were shattered … I felt teeth break and fall out of my face immediately, and I felt my jaw crack into two. So, there I was, all alone in the woods. Nobody was home on the farm, and I had to make my way back up to the farmhouse. It was a major ‘choose life’ moment for me.”

As the ambulance raced her to the hospital, Sr. Julia felt ashamed that she had done something so risky because her actions were now inconveniencing so many friends and family. She also experienced a profound sense of gratitude and even began singing songs of praise in the emergency room.

“Only after I made my final vows and dove deeper into the memories,” Sr. Julia explained, “did I start to recognize that I was living the charism of my congregation…The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration are a Eucharistic community. We’re adoring the Eucharist…in our chapel in La Crosse, Wisconsin, all the time….I hadn’t put it together that Eucharist means ‘thank you’ or ‘thanksgiving.’ Besides the shame and embarrassment and the pain and suffering, [I was feeling] joy and gratitude…that God had saved my life, that I was being well taken care of by a phenomenal medical team, even the bonus of, ‘Wow, my friends drove hours to visit me here in the ICU.’ So, this gratitude was the natural thing.”

The injuries – and subsequent lengthy recovery – that Sr. Julia endured made her better appreciate the incarnational nature of Christianity and how it forms a common bond with all people.

“I came to recognize that everyone has an experience of brokenness,” she said. “Everyone can unite with Christ in their own woundedness, and that is one of the ways that we can know intimacy with Christ. At the same time, we live in a society and a culture where we’re sort of taught to hide our brokenness. If our sense of brokenness is preventing us from…being a loving presence to others, then, in a way, we’re saying no to an opportunity for union with Christ. I think I came to know that through my own story, too.”

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Tony Rossi, The Christophers