Birds flying from trees
Franciscan Spirit Blog

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Jan 6, 2022
lanterns illuminate a night sky | Photo by Ryan Franco on Unsplash

“Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his people; peace is our gift to each other.”

These words, from Holocaust survivor and peace activist Elie Wiesel, are my go-to on Franciscan Media’s social channels whenever acts of violence befoul our country. Needless to say, I’ve tweeted them often. The message speaks to our own potential as peace-builders—and they are so inherently Franciscan they could have flowed from the pen of Francis himself. But it seems that, culturally, we have devalued the art of peacemaking.

A full year has passed, but in many ways our nation is still trying to come to grips with what happened at the Capitol on January 6. In total, five people died as a result of the insurrection. Over the ensuing months, I became acutely aware of two things: This is not the country envisioned by our founders; and given the growing division in our nation, we are far from the peaceful utopia for which St. Francis prayed in his lifetime.

 

Medieval and Timeless

The poor man of Assisi was medieval to his core, but his struggles were surprisingly contemporary. Born into privilege, a young Francis was wooed by earthly trappings and dreams of glory on the battlefield. But that was not to be. During his time as a soldier, he was captured and taken as a prisoner of war for a year, eventually returning home, sick and broken. But healing through spiritual conversion was underway.

One chapter in that conversion story happened when Francis approached a leper outside the walled city of Assisi. Once repelled by the sight of them, he suddenly saw the face of Christ in the leper, kissed his cheek, and embraced him as a brother. What could have been a sweet-but-insignificant moment became a hallmark of Franciscan spirituality: embracing “the other” and setting aside our differences as children of God.

It isn’t always comfortable embracing those who differ from us—and rarely is it convenient. Shedding our worldly selves for such a higher purpose doesn’t count unless it challenges us. Francis of Assisi understood this lesson of rising above prejudice and scorn, but it is one seldom practiced today.


Peace and good in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic

The Least Among Us

Who qualifies as 21st-century lepers? What individuals or groups have we neatly categorized as dangerous, unsavory, suspect? Asylum seekers, those who have fled persecution in their home country but who are without legal status as refugees, are a good place to start. How would Francis of Assisi treat them if he were alive today? Would he favor their removal from the only country they've known? Or would he embrace them as brothers and sisters? The love Francis had for Christ burned like fire in his heart, and he would surely see parallels between asylum seekers today and the plight of the Holy Family, asylum seekers in their own day.

Those who are targeted because of their race, religion, or sexual identity or orientation could qualify as 21st-century lepers, absolutely. According to a 2019 report by the Department of Justice, over 50 percent of hate crimes in the last year were committed by white Americans. But the relentless narrative among many is that the real threat is beyond our borders, not within.

Would Francis of Assisi help in building walls of division? Would he fan the flames of fear and suspicion? A singular moment in his life may offer an answer. When he was praying in the fallen-down chapel of San Damiano, Francis heard God’s simple message: Do not destroy, repair; choose peace over conflict; build bridges, not walls. That should be our directive in this century.

 

Endure in Peace

It’s easy to classify Francis’ message as too dated to be relevant in this complex century, but that is shortsighted. His life mirrored the Gospels. And their core message—love God, love your neighbor—goes away whenever a human life is endangered, compromised, or cut short.

Living lives devoted to peace and justice is like a flame illuminating a darkened sky. Francis of Assisi was such a light in his lifetime and he is calling us to be the same. He said as much in his “Canticle of Brother Sun.”

“Happy those who endure in peace; by you, Most High, they will be crowned.”



Comments

Arlene B. Muller
Thu, 01/06/2022 - 08:59 AM
Arlene B. Muller
If we are truly to be peacemakers we need to seek to examine both sides of a situation and the needs of the people on both sides. For example, we need to consider the plight of decent people of good will among the refugees and undocumented immigrants who are merely seeking safety, security, freedom & a decent living for themselves & their families and also the legitimate concerns of law abiding citizens whose borders have been overrun & the invasion by sex traffickers, drug dealers, terrorists, other criminals & people who are spreading COVID-19. We need to look not only at the sins of the minority of people who actually caused harm on January 6, 2021 but the reaction to the damage caused to our nation during the violent & destructive response to the killing of George Floyd that laid siege to our cities for months & to the damage caused by an extremely pro-abortion, anti religious freedom, anti conscience rights, liberal bordering on leftist administration in power from 2009 through 2016 that had finally been corrected but which correction was threatened to being ruined by an incoming administration that appeared to have been fraudulently elected. When St. Francis was called to the work of peacemaker between the destructive wolf & the people of Gubbio, he heard not only the side of the people of Gubbio but also the side of the wolf. He listened to the concerns of both & sought mutual understanding & reconciliation. By listening to the wolf he discovered that the wolf was merely causing damage because of hunger. St. Francis' mediation sought a peaceful solution acceptable to both sides: the people would feed the wolf & the wolf would no longer cause damage but would become a gentle pet to the people of the town from that day forward. Unlike anyone else, St. Francis could understand the legitimate needs of both sides. The problem in our nation is not merely the sins of the "right" or the sins of the "left" but the sins of both failing to listen to each other & seek mutual understanding & workable solutions. We need to be peacemakers like St. Francis instead of standing in our respective corners, shouting & pointing fingers at one another.
Karen
Thu, 01/06/2022 - 10:30 AM
Karen
I experience this comment as one of missing the peacemaker point, speaking to "sides," encouraging a dualistic perspective/us-them division, and pointing fingers. What happened on January 6 inflicted a deep wound on our democracy, which when healthy and not driven by self-interest and wealth protection, has the potential to represent all people of this nation, including the marginalized, as mentioned in this article. We are all one in the Body of Christ.
June
Thu, 01/06/2022 - 10:33 AM
June
Love your insight, you are focusing on the reality we are living in. God Bless
Alex
Fri, 01/07/2022 - 06:19 AM
Alex
This is true wisdom.
Carol Stephens
Thu, 01/06/2022 - 12:18 PM
Carol Stephens
I always appreciate hearing Arlene's take on these articles. Thanks so much for your perspective!
Arlene B. Muller
Fri, 01/07/2022 - 10:47 AM
Arlene B. Muller
Thank you for your affirmation. I really appreciate it. Perhaps instead of "BOTH SIDES" I should write "ALL SIDES". Some people have aptly said that there are (at least) 3 sides to every story: the perspective of each one involved and the truth! When we look at the example of St. Francis & the wolf the perception was that there were two sides. The people saw themselves as good & saw the wolf as an evil predator. The wolf saw the people as uncaring whether or not he starved to death. It turned out that when St. Francis listened to the people and to the wolf in a spirit of empathetic understanding a workable solution and acceptable compromise was reached, there was no longer any more division, any more shouting, any more pointing of fingers. Listening with empathetic understanding to ALL sides and respecting each one's concerns, as St. Francis did with the people of Gubbio & the wolf is the true role of the peacemaker. We will not have true peace and unity without it.
Susan DeCarlo
Thu, 01/06/2022 - 01:17 PM
Susan DeCarlo
Arlene, God bless you and your words and examples that speak to a side that is sometimes overlooked.
Arlene B. Muller
Fri, 01/07/2022 - 10:53 AM
Arlene B. Muller
God bless you, Susan, and thank you for your affirmation. Until the concerns of ALL sides along the spectrum begin to listen to each other and consider and respect each other's concerns in a spirit of empathetic understanding and mutual respect we will not have the unity, peace, and workable and acceptable solutions we seek.
Jayden
Thu, 01/06/2022 - 02:35 PM
Jayden
Thank you for this meditation on peace building. It is (or should be) required of us to love our brothers and sisters. People on both sides often fall short. I pray for peace in this country and for the perpetrators on that terrible day be brought to justice.
Karen
Thu, 01/06/2022 - 07:11 PM
Karen
A way toward peace is to awaken to the idea that the existence of two sides is a reductionistic myth. Jesus teaches us to tolerate ambivalence and paradox as we seek solutions to conflict. There is peace in possibilities.
Mark Cline
Sat, 01/08/2022 - 12:56 PM
Mark Cline
Peace is wonderful but how about a day of Rest.

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