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Franciscan Spirit Blog

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Jan 13, 2021
Blessed Are the Peacemakers | Photo by Jordan Madrid 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 week has passed, but the nation is still reeling—and healing—from the riots at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. As of this writing, five people were killed as a result of the insurrection. After the dust settled, 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.


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 behind chain-link fences in McAllen, Texas, 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.”


Wed, 01/13/2021 - 10:21 AM
The border issue is more than meets the eye. Should we welcome & provide a clear cut path to legalization for the many decent but desperate people who believed it was necessary to cross our borders illegally or stay beyond their visas because they were seeking safety, freedom, security and the necessities of life for themselves and their families? Of course. But should a nation also have a right & is it sometimes necessary to exercise that right to protect their borders from terrorists, sex traffickers, drug dealers & other criminals? Again, of course. This is not to characterize all undocumented immigrants or all people of any particular ethnic group as bad people. Some characterize all the undocumented as helpless, vulnerable, innocent & needy, while others characterize all the undocumented as criminals merely because they entered or overstayed illegally. I believe that they are not either/or but both/and. There are undocumented who are in need of help who mean no harm to anyone & they need our help. But there are others with ill intent as noted above from whom our law abiding citizens need & deserve protection. Unfortunately many people fall on one side or the other but our laws need to deal with both. It is as difficult a problem as balancing truth & love & balancing justice & mercy. The discernment of who falls into which category can be tricky. Our country needs a lot of prayer. We need God's wisdom & guidance to formulate an immigration policy that will be at the same time just, compassionate, clear cut, easy to understand & prudent. Undocumented immigrants who are needy and of good will who mean no harm & are willing to work hard need compassion, understanding & need a clear cut, easy to follow & understand path to legalization. But those who intend harm need to be denied entrance or deported. The Trump administration has been the most successful to date & capturing sex traffickers & rescuing their victims, which is a very important work. The threat of terrorism is still very real, and terrorist attacks often involve people planted on the inside of the country. We also need to stem the flow of drugs. Mob violence at the Capitol and the mob violence following the killing of George Floyd that caused months of siege of our major cities characterized by riots, looting, killing, fires, & destruction of property, including churches, stores & small businesses & destroying people's livelihood are both to be condemned & the perpetrators brought to justice. In seeking peace & justice let us please consider all sides of the story. Peacemaking rather than mere peacekeeping requires reasonable dialogue, prayer & work toward just reconciliation.
Wed, 01/13/2021 - 10:47 AM
The article mentions 21st century lepers, those that are targeted for their race, religion, or sexual identity. The article also mentions 21st century lepers as those that seek asylum as Mary and Joseph did. I can agree that all these people need our love and compassion. What I want to know is why the unborn, the babies murdered by abortion in this country, are never included on a list such as 21st century lepers. There is so much uproar in our society over the "21st century lepers" mentioned in the article. If we are to be true followers of the Gospel and followers of St. Francis then we need to include the lives lost to abortion on our so called lists. Abortion is swept under the rug and never brought to light in our society as the evil it is. Francis heard God's message: Do not destroy! If we are following the Gospel message to love God and our neighbor, and as the article states, that love goes away whenever a human life is endangered, comprimised, or cut short, then please add the lives of the babies lost to abortion to the list of 21st century lepers! You have a wonderful platform to bring this issues to light. Talk about it! Add the aborted babies to lists of social injustices! Light the flame in the darkened sky!
Wed, 01/13/2021 - 02:31 PM
I understand your pain, but you can be assured that the unborn child is with God. The child never committed sin, they are pure, they have a place in heaven. That should assure you, and sometimes heaven is better for the child compared to living with parents that are struggling to support themselves, than add a baby to the equation. That would be chaos.
Wed, 01/13/2021 - 06:23 PM
Gentle reminder, The baby is already alive in the mother's womb!! What a frightening thought that it is better to abort a living human being because of an economic or family situation. I get it, life is difficult, still not our choice to end a life. God is the giver of life. Life is always a gift from God no matter the situation! We as Christians are to called to protect life. I don't have an easy answer for babies born into poverty or bad family situations. I know adoption can be an answer. I also know murdering them before they are born is not an answer or a solution.
Wed, 01/13/2021 - 08:08 PM
Abortion is a difficult topic, and there are too sides to the story. Both sides have been told and now there needs to be a realization. In our world that we live in today, poverty is widespread, and it is likely that if a baby is born into poverty it will struggle to stay alive. So the question is: is it better to "kill" the baby while it is in the mother's womb and wipe all chances for a brighter future, or is it better to take a risk and see what happens.

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