Perhaps no other virtue is more associated with St. Francis of Assisi than peace. He made peace with people, with animals, in the Church, and within civil society. This peace grew out of his honesty about his relationship to God, others, and himself. Before seeking peace with people and creation around him, Francis had to find peace within himself. That was a challenge faced with times of deep prayer.
In his time, the peace that Francis showed with birds, wolves, lambs, larks, and worms reminded his contemporaries that Adam and Eve lived in total harmony with all creatures before they were sent from the Garden of Eden. The serpent in the Garden of Eden promised Eve and Adam knowledge and power that would equal God’s, but the serpent’s promise was worthless.
Women and men suffering from leprosy were perhaps the most universally despised social group in Francis’s day. The Lord led Francis to recognize them as his brothers and sisters. His respect for them as equals in God’s creation brought peace to these afflicted ones. Peace is both a wonderful and a much-abused word. Because we seek peace constantly, it has many counterfeits. For example, peace at any price always yields no peace at a very steep price.
Francis promoted peace among his friars, among the Poor Clares, among the Secular Franciscans, among all people. Thomas of Celano writes that the immensely popular Francis “seemed to be a man of another world” (First Life, 36). Francis called people back into the peace and harmony of a world into which God had created the human family and which was as fragile in Francis’s day as it is in our own.
Peace is a gift from God. Human actions that cooperate with God’s grace activate peace in the world. On October 27, 1986, St. John Paul II invited leaders of world religions to Assisi to pray and fast there for the sake of world peace. At the concluding prayer service, the pope called those present and everyone who would hear or read his words to be “artisans of peace.” Francis of Assisi was certainly an artisan of peace.
Earlier the same pope had designated Francis as the patron of ecology. Francis learned to appreciate God’s gift of natural resources, not to dominate them selfishly. All of creation pointed Francis toward God. He would have agreed with Dante Alighieri, who wrote in the Divine Comedy that over the gate of heaven is the affirmation, “In his will is our peace.”
“Peace be with you” echoed from Jesus’s life through the life of St. Francis of Assisi. We are called to allow it to reverberate through our lives as well.
Living as Francis Did
Peace is a work of justice; it does not come about by a display of superior strength or military might. In fact, it can be argued that those who “live among social outcasts, among the poor and helpless, the sick and the lepers, and those who beg by the wayside” most truly effect the cause of peace and justice by changing society at its very roots: its people.
Growing with Francis
Make a sign of peace today in some small way. Help to effect a change in the world with an act of justice and love.