Peace In Adversity
Years ago, when I interviewed Kathy DiFiore, an exemplary woman who founded a network of shelters in New Jersey for homeless teenage mothers and abused women, she mentioned how the inspiration for her ministry came while she was praying, "Lord, make me a channel of your peace."
This prayer, normally attributed to St. Francis of Assisi but not written by him, shows humility in recognizing that we are God's and that to be peace-bearers we need to think of others' needs first. Given today's climate and the tremendous need for healing, justice and peace, reflecting on this prayer helps me a little.
Since Oct. 4 was the feast day of St. Francis, I want to reflect more on how the patron saint of ecology is also known as a peacemaker who cared for the poor and inspired thousands to follow Jesus.
St. Francis began his life as the son of a wealthy merchant in Assisi, but after experiencing war and captivity, he started a conversion process. In 1205, he prayed in the chapel of San Damiano and had a mystical experience where he heard God said, "Francis, repair my church, which as you see is falling into ruins."
He took this charge literally, and began to rebuild the church's dilapidated structure, but later realized that he was meant to help repair the 13th-century church, which was affected by corruption.
When praying before the crucifix, St. Francis asked God for a heart that is clean from darkness and for "true faith, certain hope and perfect charity" to do God's will. Like many saints and holy people, St. Francis constantly prayed, lived an authentic Gospel life and considered the Virgin Mary a model for how he could try to follow Jesus.
Now, over 800 years later, people inspired by this saint continue to respond to God's call to peacemaking, care of the environment and outreach to the poor. Back in the early 2000s, theology professor Jay Hammond wrote that St. Francis of Assisi "provides a concrete example of living the mission of peace, justice and forgiveness in a world torn apart by suffering, hatred and violence."
And as Franciscan Father Richard Rohr said, "The mark of a true Franciscan heart is devotion to the Gospel."
Like other peacemakers, St. Francis knew that "power does not announce peace; justice and solidarity announce peace," Hammond said. That might be why he is also a symbol of peace for people of many faiths today.
Years ago, Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff published a book with an expanded version of the "Prayer of St. Francis." Like the original prayer, each line has a lot to reflect on, but lately I am praying on the part asking that "truth shine through our sincere hearts, our humanizing gestures, our pure intentions and our ongoing pursuit of fidelity and truth."
As Boff wrote: "Lord, where there is darkness, may I bring light. You are the true light that enlightens every person who comes into this world. Enable me through inspired words, consoling gestures and a warm heart to dissipate human darkness so that your light may show us the way."
I hope that St. Francis and modern-day peacemakers intercede for the church and world, so we become instruments of God's peace with hearts open to embrace the needs of others.
Maria-Pia Negro Chin is bilingual associate editor at Maryknoll Magazine.