The article below is fifth in a series from friars and Partners in Ministry (PIMs) of the Province and the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Directorate who are sharing reflections on Franciscan Peacemaking. Their observations are based on experiences as well as on their impressions of an aspect of history.
Last fall, St. Bonaventure University invited the author Sharon Parks to give a talk as part of our celebration of the feast of St. Francis. Her book, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams – Mentoring Young Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose and Faith, had much to say to our vocation as a Catholic and Franciscan university. I had read a short segment of the book as we discussed how to make St. Bonaventure a better mentoring environment for our students, faculty and staff. Over the Christmas vacation, I had the opportunity to read the whole book.
One paragraph was especially meaningful and appropriate to my experience as a neophyte Franciscan peacemaker. Quoting Douglas Steere’s Dimensions of Prayer, Parks writes, “It has been said that in the life of faith, ‘God is always revising our boundaries outward.’ A primary way this occurs is through an encounter with the other, in which an empathic bond is established that transcends us and them, creating a new we. This grounds commitment to the common good, rather than to me and mine.”
Is not this expanding our borders outward central to the Christian understanding of God? This is what I have learned from teaching “The Intellectual Journey” course at St. Bonaventure University, based on our patron’s Journey of the Soul to God. The Trinity is a common good of loving relationships between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In creation, this “fountain fullness” overflows to form our world, meant to be filled with loving relationships between God, humans and the rest of creation.
Human sinfulness retracted the borders, skewing the relationships, leading to injustice and violence.
Jesus Christ became human to teach us how to expand the borders again, to establish right relationships and to restore justice and peace.
Is not expanding our borders outward central to Francis’ story? Repulsed by their sight and smell, Francis avoided lepers. When, inspired by divine grace, he embraced a leper he met unexpectedly, he was filled with God’s love. And he responded by expanding the boundaries of his own love, first to the brothers God gave him, then to Clare and the sisters that joined her, to all of humanity, and ultimately to all of creation. “The Canticle of Brother Sun” is the theme song of this expanding community of loving relationships. In his meeting with the Sultan, Francis reached beyond the borders of religion and ethnicity to offer peaceful relationships as an antidote to war.
My own entry into the JPIC directorate is also a story of expanding borders. For more than 10 years, I have been involved in pro-life ministry here at St. Bonaventure University. At our last provincial chapter I joined a discussion with a group of friars interested in pro-life issues. Somehow I ended up as the spokesman for the group to the chapter. I suspect that that role led to an invitation last summer to join the JPIC directorate.
As I thought and prayed over how to respond, I felt God’s call to expand borders outward. I knew that involvement with the directorate would expand my borders into justice and peace issues with which I had never been involved. It would make me encounter poor and afflicted people whom I had neglected, challenge me to form empathic bonds with them, and call us all to commitment to a common good. And I knew that my involvement with the directorate might expand the borders of the Province to encounter the unborn, to create we instead of us and them, and to commit to the common good by including justice for the unborn in the JPIC agenda. The “consistent life ethic” that the directorate has discussed is just such a mutual expanding of borders, reaching beyond the political divide over these issues.
Expanding our borders outward, the formation of empathic bonds and a commitment to the common good can help bring justice to all and peace among ourselves and in our world.
— Fr. Peter teaches biology at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y.