The article below is sixth in a series from friars and Partners in Ministry (PIMs) of the Province and the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) 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.
In thinking about what Franciscan Peacemaking means to me, I cannot help but be moved by the story of St. Francis and the Sultan. Most importantly, I am deeply touched by St. Francis’ Prayer for Peace. It is by far the simplest and most challenging words I have ever meditated over, and for that, I am truly grateful.
Oftentimes, one thinks of peacemaking as the work of diplomats. When the word Franciscan is added to this process, one can certainly associate the word with a type of formal brethren. Therefore, St. Francis’ ability to call on us, common folk, to engage in making peace with our brothers and sisters inspires me to look at my neighbor, reflect upon the world we live in, and pray for dialogue to take place on the issues taking us away from God.
I am not a member of a religious community. I am not a person who regularly attends Mass on Sundays. I am not someone who can recite or defend the Bible in an argument or even quote religious leaders and passages. I am not a woman who believes heaven is in the sky and Hell is below us. I am someone who often forgets to omit meat on Fridays. I am someone who can only pray Catholic prayers in Spanish while holding mantra beads instead of a rosary. I am someone who forgets words at English Mass sometimes but is truly touched by the meaning of: “I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
I am, however, a woman of incredible faith. I am a person who prays for world peace when blowing out birthday candles. I am someone who believes in the divinity found in humanity. I am a woman who believes in the wisdom found in compassion. I am a woman who chooses to be Christian because of the role of women as the first witnesses to His resurrection. I am a woman of faith who respects the discipline of prayer found in Islam. I am a woman of faith who believes Heaven is within us and is found through love. I am a woman of faith who believes Hell is within us and is encountered when surrounded by loneliness of heart. I am a woman of faith who looks up when praying and says “To whom and All it may concern.” I am a woman of faith who believes that the Kingdom of God on Earth is created through peacemaking. I am a woman of faith who believes St. Francis is just awesome.
For the last several years, I have prayed over the meaning of St. Francis’ prayer and have often wondered about the responsibility attached to choosing to become an instrument of peace. In many ways, I thought of the responsibility to committing one’s life to sowing love where hatred and lack of dialogue lived. I have thought about what it would be like to pardon individuals who injured my spirit or where I would find faith in times of incredible doubt in all I have known and trusted. I have been challenged to seek light in times of darkness and see hope when despair was all too present. Yet, no matter how I chose to look at these words, levels by which I categorized them, or how I compartmentalized my prayers, I always came back to the part in Mass where we are asked by the priest to give our neighbors a sign of peace before receiving the Eucharist.
Reflecting upon the words spoken by a priest and my actions of peace toward the other nearest me, I have been particularly moved and strengthened by Franciscan Peacemaking. To me, the challenge to live the words of St. Francis has never resonated more deeply.
I have been quite blessed in my life to witness the beauty of God’s love for us, for me. At times though, I have also been a witness to the plight of a child soldier and become a listening board to women who either had an abortion or have been raped. Also at times, I have held the hands of people in despair and walked with those who are hungry. However, during all of these times, I have witnessed people’s prayer for seeds of hope, pardon, love, and light. Those who have seen hatred, injury, doubt, despair and darkness already know about Franciscan Peacemaking. It is those of us who wish to engage in a deeper spiritual connection with God who are in need of knowing about the prayer for peace.
I believe that it is at the time when we feel as if our spirit is about to vanish, that we are born into a peaceful relationship with our Creator, ourselves, and mostly, our brothers and sisters. Franciscan Peacemaking gives us the concrete tools to turn abstract concepts of peace into tangible action. After all, it is through peace in our community that we get to enjoy the Divine.
So this, good people, is why I think St. Francis’ plea to engage in peacemaking is the simplest and most challenging call to which I have ever opened my heart.
— Cecilia is a member of the Province’s JPIC directorate and former director of Voces in Fronteras in Wilmington, Del.