In his writings and in the early biographies of St. Francis, he emerges as a person formed and informed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What does that mean? How do we even begin to live the Gospel, as he did, in our own time?
We delight in Francis’ playfulness and in his joyful response to beauty and goodness, but like us, he also had to struggle with the harder questions posed by the Gospels. It is the implications of these more difficult questions that I would like to explore in this chapter on living the Gospel today.
St. Francis saw the connection between the crib and the cross. Brother Thomas of Celano, in his first life of St. Francis, said of the live Christmas crib which Francis began near the town of Greccio, in the very center of Italy:
“His greatest care, his most vivid desire, his supreme resolution was to observe the holy Gospel always and in everything and with all vigilance and care, with all of his mind’s desire and his heart’s fervor, he wanted to follow the teachings and imitate the examples of our Lord Jesus Christ to perfection. He continuously recalled and meditated over His words and with very keen contemplation, he kept His works before his eyes. The humility of the Incarnation and the charity of the Passion were foremost in his mind, so that he rarely wanted to think of anything else.”
And so we ask ourselves, what is to be done, what can we do to bring the Christ of the Gospel back into Christmas in a way that is more than a bumper sticker slogan that ends up being mainly a political football? How can we bring the Christ of the Gospel back into our daily lives so that we actually live out the teachings of the Gospel where we first learned the story of Christ?
In the quote above Brother Thomas says of St. Francis, “His greatest care, his most vivid desire, his supreme resolution was to observe the holy Gospel….”
And this very Gospel emphasizes over and over again the imperative of reaching out to those who, like the man in Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan, have fallen among thieves, which in turn calls to mind the rapaciousness of those forces and structures that control our economy and of the many who are left by the wayside. How, then, can we today reach out to those fallen and to the thieves, as well?
St. John the Evangelist tells us that the truth will set us free. But what does that mean? St. Francis found the truth that leads to freedom in the truths of the Gospel, and the freedom he found was the freedom to love. God’s truth imparts to us the freedom not only to grasp the truth that is being imparted but also the freedom from what previously had been preventing us from acting on that truth. The Gospel itself will show us not only how we are to discern the truth, but how the truth leads to the action we call love.
So, if we are to learn from St. Francis today and live the words of Christ in the Gospel, we need first of all to ask what part we ourselves may be playing in disseminating lies without considering more carefully whether or not they are the truth they pretend to be, or being silent when we know lies are being proclaimed as the truth. And then, seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness, like St. Francis, we try to begin again, listening to the words of the Gospel to find the truth, praying over them, and living them out in our daily lives, all the while asking God to help us to be people of the truth who try always to speak the truth.
St. Francis is seen as the gentle saint who shows us that the way to peace and justice is the way Christ has shown us in the Gospels, namely, the way of the love of God, which is THE way; and its companion is the way of love of our neighbor as ourselves.
This basic Gospel truth is the message of the Gospel St. Francis finally was able to hear in the Gospel he lived and preached. He learned that if we put those two commandments in precisely that order, we easily see how and when we sin in departing from the truth and in hurting our neighbor. All truth is from God, and God’s truth is that we are to love God, and loving God will show us how to love our neighbor. Living the Gospel must start with embracing this basic Gospel truth. Only then will we, too, begin to hear the voice of God.
Pray for Peace
This has been summed up beautifully in his Peace Prayer, a prayer he did not write but certainly is the way he prayed and lived and taught by example. It is a prayer that outlines everything that made Francis the peacemaker that he was and the model for peace that he is for us today. It is a prayer that shows us how to find the truth again, if we’ve lost it, or to continue living in the truth we’ve already found and are trying to live.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console,
to be understood, as to understand,
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.