“May the Lord Give you Peace!”
It’s now just a little over two months since this blog was launched. The content of the posts has varied greatly, but it is important to keep in mind that one driving force behind this website is the provision of formation materials for Secular Franciscans. As the introduction to the initial podcast about the site suggests, the underlying belief is that the Franciscan charism has something to offer the entire world, not just those who have made the commitment to profession. The hope is that anyone who finds their way here will find something worthwhile, but that SFOs will find the content particularly useful.
So ever since the blog opened, I have been looking to start a second (and soon after, a third and a fourth) formation series to complement the Journey thru John series that is already being steadily published. As I was editing and posting the second entry from website contributor Bill Schmitt, Let’s Talk About Communicating Better, I began to think that he was hinting at something that had the potential to be developed for formation.
When I edited the third post from Bill, I was sure that a topic for a series was inherent in what he was writing. I found that the word “peace” seemed to fit in almost every paragraph Bill had written even if he was not using it that often. So, I began to add “peace” in where it made sense to me and, when I was done, I wound up giving the post the title “On Peaceful Communication.”
Although this is the formal introduction to a new formation series on the centrality of “peace” in the Franciscan charism, these two posts from Bill are really the inspiration.
The timing of the launch of this series is propitious, but unfortunately not in a good way. As I write the country is suffering through riots in many major cities after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota. The death was unacceptable and senseless. It never should have happened. Protests are a reasonable and even necessary response. But the protests can quickly become unacceptable themselves if they become violent. The burning of cars, the destruction of property and the looting of businesses are also senseless and they do great damage to the cause of the protesters by giving cover to those who would like to change the narrative away from the tragedy of Mr. Floyd’s death.
The thing that seems to be missing in both the initial incident and in portions of the response is peace. We often use the term “peace officer” as a synonym for policeman, but peace was definitely not at the forefront of the thoughts (or the training?) of those officers responsible for the death of Mr. Floyd. Likewise, the protests do not have peace as a goal or guiding principle when they turn toward violence and criminality. To the extent that both sides have acted separate from peace, they contribute to stereotypes that feed an unease that makes the problem feel uncurable.
African Americans feel more and more afraid of the police, and rightly so. Police find themselves backed into no-win corners where, on the one hand, they are publicly decrying what happened to Mr. Floyd, while, on the other hand, they find themselves required to enforce law and order in an atmosphere where opportunists can easily turn even the proper execution of their duties into accusations that have the potential to dramatically escalate the situation. They too find fear to be a major factor in calculating how to execute their day to day lives.
The only thing for certain is that we are all losing.
The polarization that Bill writes about in his articles is front and center in what is happening. Commentators continue to use polarization as a tool to further entrench the power bases that feed their worldly influence. Politicians can be willfully complicit in the polarization if they expect to gain political ground, or they may simply be blinded or paralyzed by the polarization, afraid to act boldly from the middle ground that a call to peace from both sides might represent. Either way, the polarization seems to make it impossible for opposite sides to act in concert even if the greater good would obviously be best served if all could find the will to cooperate.
What would the outcome be if Donald Trump and Joe Biden, or Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell, or even Barack Obama and George W. Bush would agree to set aside their differences and stand together to speak against the lack of peace on both sides of this incident?
Do we think that such an approach has even occurred to anyone in power at the moment? Is peace important enough to lay aside the politics of division long enough to address this crisis as it begs for the country to come together for a unified solution? Or is the polarization of politics and the nation itself so deeply embedded, so utterly internalized, that cooperation on the issue is not even on the radar of any powerful force in the entire country?
If peace is not a priority and seemingly not even possible at the highest levels of leadership, at the places where examples of good will ought to be given and expectations of peaceful fellowship ought to be set, is peace possible at any level in our society?
Who has the ability, depth and courage to call for peace in this situation and be heard and respected? Who can call us back from the quagmire of polarization into a place where differences can be calmly contemplated with an eye toward compromise? Who even wants to take us to a locality of tranquility where we can converse without the escalation of fear being the primary motivation in our discourse?
Unfortunately, I do not have the answer to my questions. I do not have a cure all that can bring us back swiftly from the place we find ourselves. But, like Bill, I do believe that the Catholic Church and the Franciscan charism has “something to say” about these issues.
And I believe that “something to say” starts with the word “peace” and what the Franciscan charism means when it uses that word.
In Chapter Eight of The Legend of the Three Companions, we get an introduction to St. Francis’ approach to peace. Perhaps this can serve as the starting point where we can begin to discover what that “something to say” entails.
As he later testified, he learned a greeting of this sort by the Lord’s revelation: “May the Lord give you peace!” Therefore, in all his preaching, he greeted the people at the beginning of his sermon with a proclamation of peace.
Immediately, therefore, filled with the spirit of the prophets, the man of God, Francis, after that greeting, proclaimed peace, preached salvation, and, according to a prophetic passage, by his salutary admonitions, brought to true peace many who had previously lived at odds with Christ and far from salvation.
As both the truth of blessed Francis’ simple teaching as well as that of his life became known to many, two years after his conversion, some men began to be moved to do penance by his example and, leaving all things, they joined him in holy life and habit. The first of these was Brother Bernard of holy memory.
The word “testified” in the first sentence is a direct reference to Francis’ own words in The Testament:
“The Lord revealed a greeting to me that we should say, “May the Lord give you peace.”
The actual phrase “May the Lord give you peace” is accompanied by two citations in the text. The first is from the Old Testament, the Book of Numbers, Chapter 6, verses 22:26. This is The Priestly Blessing and it is very familiar to Secular Franciscans as it is the final blessing that is used in our Ritual to close our fraternity and council meetings:
The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’
The second citation is from 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 3, verse 16. This is from the final greeting, the closing, of Paul’s letter:
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.
As we might expect, St. Francis is firmly grounded in scripture in his use of this phrase. I would like to suggest that the Catholic Church has the capacity to be the answer to my question. The Pope should be someone “who has the ability, depth and courage to call for peace in this situation and be heard and respected.” He might very well have the ability, depth and courage. But, in part due to the efforts of polarization itself, he may not have the ability to be heard and respected. This does not mean that he should not speak and speak often on the topic. But it does mean that the message of peace will also need to be carried forth on other fronts. Given the current climate, the message might only be effective if it comes from the ground up anyway.
As a Secular Franciscan interested in living out my profession actively in the world, the Rule, in Article 15, calls me specifically to “be in the forefront in promoting justice by the testimony of my human life and my courageous initiatives.” I must attempt to find a way to bring the values I am continually learning from my spiritual father Francis to bear on the state of the world today. In this instance, like Francis above, I am summoned to bring peace to the forefront of every conversation and interaction I have with my fellow man. Peace must head my basic approach to the world.
So my answer is to initiate this new formation series entitled “On Franciscan Peace.”
That title is an ambitious one and is certainly beyond my ability and expertise. I do not profess to have the wherewithal to be your teacher, guide and authority on this topic as it unfolds. I will chime in where it seems appropriate, but for this effort to be truly successful, it will require many voices to come together in a peaceful conversation about the topic of peace itself.
To this end, I have asked Bill to host podcasts with many different guests as the primary presentation format for this formation series. As we experiment with the idea of doing ongoing formation in a podcast format, we will seek to bring varied and diverse voices to bear in order to hone in on just what the word peace means in a Franciscan context. The first podcast featuring Bill and Sister Agnes Marie is already recorded and it will be the next post on this site.
There will also be written entries in this series. We would be very excited to have guest contributors share their thoughts on peace within the Franciscan charism and how Franciscans might lead the way toward a harmonious future for this precious Creation of our God that is currently so troubled.
I want to share with you how difficult I found it to write about the George Floyd situation. I had to write, and rewrite, and rewrite and I am still not sure that I have written in a truly peaceful manner. I am far from immune to the impact that the polarization of the world has had on all of us even at the subconscious level. I hope that what I wrote about the opposing sides of this issue was truly peaceful and helpful and not further polarizing.
African Americans are deeply injured by what has happened and continues to happen in our society. But many good-hearted policemen who want to do the right thing are also injured by the fallout of what their fellows have done. This means this topic of peace requires an extreme measure of humility as it is addressed. It will be a challenge to all who engage in this discussion, whether as a contributor, a guest, or even someone who simply leaves a comment on a post, to be aware of and sympathetic to perspectives on all sides of the topic.
Peace requires me to place others before myself. It does not seek to dominate others, but to accommodate and embrace them first as beings created by the same Creator who created me. God loves every other person on the planet just as much as He loves me. This places us in a state of equality that is simply unassailable. Yes, we must come to the discussion of peace with ideas about what the word means if our engagement is to be meaningful, but we must also approach the discussion with an acknowledgment of our own humanity and therefore our own fallibility. We must be honest with ourselves, always examining our own conscience, if we are to respectfully approach our fellows, even our fellows who are inclined to oppose us, from a position of scrupulousness and unpretentiousness.
To quote Article 13 of the Rule, we must “accept all people as a gift of the Lord and an image of Christ.” This is most especially relevant when the person we are dealing with disagrees with us and is not inclined to extend us the same courtesy.
We must be humble enough to offer peace continually even if the person we have encountered does not seem to be seeking it.
In closing, I want to call closer attention to the final paragraph from the initial quote from The Legend of the Three Companions.
Note first that it was not only Francis’s preaching on penance and peace that led to the conversion of many, but also “the truth of his life.” As Franciscans we like to say, “preach always, if necessary, use words.” Our example is every bit as important as our words as we seek to extend a message of peace into the world. We must “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk” if we have any hope of success of influencing even one person.
Note also that it took two years of preaching and good example before the first convert, “Brother Bernard of holy memory,” joined Francis in his way of life. Francis must have had many days when he wondered if he was having any impact at all. We will no doubt experience the same. We deliberately operate from a position of minority. As such, we do not have platforms that reach masses of people as do those who seek to promote polarization. But we do have platforms such as this and we must make use of them no matter how small our audience seems, believing that we are working at the behest of God and Jesus just as Francis did. Our work is for their glory, not ours, and They will make of our work what They will.
Like Francis, we must persevere in steadfast patience with our messaging. And if, in two years, we have made just one convert to the Franciscan charism of peace, we can be happy to join the esteemed company of St. Francis on his timeline. And we can hope that just as his efforts blossomed into a worldwide movement that we feel privileged to participate in 800 years later, so to will God make our efforts blossom in His own way and time according to His Will.
Consider how you might follow Francis’ example as you move through the world. How could you start every encounter you have with a proclamation of peace, be it by using the same words as Francis, or in some other manner? Is that the very first step you could take in elevating the status of peace in the world?
It is two days past Pentecost. We have just been reminded that, while we may not have access to mass media platforms, we do have access to a powerful Advocate of our own.
We should confidently pray to the Holy Spirit in the sure hope that our prayers will be answered according to His Will. If our work is truly His bidding, it will be successful in His time whether we realize it or not.
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your divine love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be recreated and you shall renew the face of the earth.”