If you have one of those bibles where the words of Jesus are indicated in red, take a second look at chapter 14 just on the macro level. There are 31 verses in the chapter. Only three of them are in black. Everything else is in red to indicate that Jesus is speaking.
If you wish to immerse yourself in the scene, there is not much to grab hold of. You cannot watch Jesus washing feet as you could in the last chapter. The physical setting is still the room of the last supper, so perhaps you can conjure a vision of that scene. I see the meal as complete and I am sitting around the table with the other disciples. There is activity going on around me as dishes are cleared away, etc. Judas has left the room, but I am not interested in his errand because Jesus has begun to teach.
Although I am unaware that this will be my last meal in His presence (if we do not count whatever post Resurrection encounters are to come, which I am also unaware of), I am spellbound as always by what He is saying. His charisma is such that I cannot help but be caught up in His words. Tonight, His words are challenging, even confusing.
At the end of chapter 13, Jesus told Peter that he will disown Him three times before the crock crows. What does that mean? Is Jesus being literal? I have just enjoyed a fine meal with my friends. Everything seems to be grand. Jesus is a young man in His prime. The people just greeted Him with “Hosannas!” as He entered the city. I expect to follow Him into whatever great things He will accomplish as His work as the Messiah unfolds. Yes, Jesus has spoken in dark terms at times about the future, but tonight, I cannot imagine why anything would go wrong? What could possibly cause Peter to disown Jesus three times before this night is out?
Jesus then begins to talk about knowing the way to His Father’s house and He states that I have seen the Father. As regularly happens, I do not really understand what He is trying to tell me. I feel a little ashamed of my incomprehension. I believe Jesus is the Son of God and I feel chosen to be here in His presence. My pride makes me believe that if I was chosen, I should know and understand, so I am reluctant to speak up and ask questions. If I did so, my lack of understanding would expose my human frailty, and I do not like to have that exposed or to be reminded of it. I would rather be silent than have my pride wounded in front of this Teacher I admire so greatly.
Jesus looks over at me, and I know by the way He gazes at me, that He knows I do not understand, and He also knows why I am silent. But He has His game face on. I am not sure what He makes of me.
I am suddenly grateful when Thomas and Philip ask the same questions I had on my mind but was not strong enough to voice. His attention has gone away from my failing. But deep down, I still know that He knows. I know in an undeniable way that I need to experience conversion before I can truly be worthy of being in this room.
Coming back to the present, I wonder to myself, what other questions am I not asking that I need to ask?
What answers am I missing because even without my realizing it, my pride is keeping me from acknowledging my frailty and seeking His guidance?
John Chapter 14, verses 26 and 27:
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.”
I am not sure we can go through any work of substance about St. Francis of Assisi without touching on the idea of peace at some point. If you get emails from Sister Agnes Marie, then you know that they are always signed with the phrase, “Pace e bene!” Peace and all good things. It is the universal Franciscan greeting. I have heard it so often that I tend to overlook it. Peace has become something I presume to possess automatically.
But what does peace mean within the Franciscan charism? When I asked myself that question as I began to reflect on these verses, I found that I did not have a firm grasp on the answer. The meaning of peace was not something I could easily articulate. It is a word like love, which I also often neglect by taking for granted that I already understand its meaning.
This time I swallowed my pride, embraced a little humility, and asked Jesus for help understanding what He means when He uses the word peace. (Thomas and Philip are not around to do my asking for me and I do not want Him to look at me that way again. Better to get His help while I can.)
As a starting point, I felt drawn to look at the words “leave” and “give” in verse 27.
Jesus might have just said “my peace be with you.” That is a more straightforward blessing than the way Jesus phrased it here and it conveys the same message, doesn’t it? Why bother to mention leaving and giving when He could just bestow his peace on His disciples in a single direct phrase?
Is this just a more poetic way of saying what He wanted to say, or is there meaning behind the phrasing?
Let me also admit this: When I first started my reflection, I was only working with this second verse about peace. At first, these two verses did not seem to me to be directly connected. But as I prayed over the idea of leaving and giving, I felt the need to look further at the context in the hopes of gaining some insight, and I soon concluded that my initial impression was incorrect.
These two verses are side by side for a reason. They are intimately connected. The first also speaks about both leaving and giving. It sheds light on the second and in the process, speaks to the nature of peace.
Read them again. In the first verse, what is being given and what is being left? If you are like me, and you do not see it right away, stay with it. It will come.
The Franciscan fascination with the word peace comes directly from the words of St. Francis. In his Testament, he says this:
The Lord revealed a greeting to me that we should say: “May the Lord give you peace.”
There is one of the two words again, already. The greeting is not “peace be with you” as we say to each other during Mass. Instead, the word “give” is present. Francis is being more exact. As a man dedicated to living the example of Christ, he is following the gospel precisely. If Jesus said, “My peace I give you,” then Francis is going to make sure his greeting conveys that clearly so there is no confusion about the source of peace.
When Francis says, “The Lord revealed a greeting to me,” what do you think is the most likely source of that revelation? Did God say it to him in a cave? Was this greeting relayed to him in a dream? We know how much time Francis spent with the gospels during his lifetime. Is it possible that the revelation that Francis is referring to here came directly from the verses of the gospel of John that form the basis of this reflection?
In the prayer life of Francis, did he perhaps one day sit down and read chapter 14 of John, just as you have done in preparation for ongoing formation this month? As he read through the chapter, did these verses perhaps stick out to him, causing him to focus on them? And in that focus, did he conclude that God wanted him to use these words as his stock greeting?
Admittedly, I am guessing. But based on what we know about Francis, and based on the precision of this greeting, it seems plausible.
That plausibility, then, gives us encouragement in our overall endeavor as we Journey thru John. It may or may not be a true example from the life of St. Francis, but the plausibility stems from our certainty that Francis immersed himself in the gospels just as we are now trying to do ourselves. He read and prayed over them closely and carefully. He was inspired by them. He let them shape his life. He found revelations in them.
He found peace in them!
We can be certain that when we attempt to do the same, we are doing what Francis would want us to do.
This greeting appears in other locations in the source material on Francis.
In The Life of St Francis by Thomas of Celano, The First Book, chapter ten, we find this:
In all of his preaching, before he presented the word of God to the assembly, he prayed for peace saying, “May the Lord give you peace.” He always proclaimed this to men and women, to those he met and to those who met him. Accordingly, many who hated peace along with salvation, with the Lord’s help wholeheartedly embraced peace. They became themselves children of peace, now rivals for eternal salvation.
It is important to recognize the words “with the Lord’s help” from this passage. They, combined with the greeting itself, begin to make the Franciscan theme clear.
Peace is not something that we are powerful enough to give on our own. To embrace peace correctly, we must do so from a position of humility. In that humility, we find that peace is not ours to give away. Instead, we pray within our greeting that “the Lord give peace.” Celano affirms the location of power by giving credit in this passage to the Lord as the source of the conversion of those “who hated peace along with salvation.” The implication is that Francis could not have accomplished this expansion of peace on his own. This was beyond the talents of even this great saint.
This is a subtle distinction from what we say in Mass. In Mass, because of the imprecision in the language, there is some ambiguity about the source of the peace. Are we somehow bestowing our own peace directly on our neighbor as we shake hands? Or are we calling for the peace of Christ to come to them?
In the Franciscan language, the ambiguity disappears. We are clearly not the source of peace. Instead, we are praying on behalf of our brother or sister that Jesus grace them with the gift of His peace. It may be a small distinction, but it is a distinction based in the minority status that Francis sought for himself and that we also need to seek continuously. It acknowledges directly that Jesus is the sole power at the top of our hierarchy.
That minority status which is so crucial to the Franciscan charism then becomes, in turn, the method by which peace is spread.
In The Anonymous of Perugia, chapter 8, this manifestation of peace is described like this:
Francis’ great desire was that he and his brothers would perform deeds through which the Lord would be praised. He used to tell them, “As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts, thus no one will be provoked to anger or scandal because of you. Let everyone be drawn to peace and kindness through your peace and gentleness. For we have been called to this: to cure the wounded, to bind up the broken, and to recall the erring. Many who seem to us members of the devil will yet be disciples of Christ.”
It is then not by an act of power that we help spread peace in the world, but by an act of submission. We do not bestow or enforce peace. We draw people to it by the example of a conversion to peace that resulted from our own surrender to Jesus.
The reflections on the past chapters of John, combined with the overall proposition of a gospel life centered in a Franciscan poverty that locates us deeply within Jesus, lead us to the kindness and gentleness that Francis is asking of us in this passage. As we meditated on past chapters from John, we considered themes such as:
- Obedience to the Will of God
- Relying on Mary as our Advocate
- Passion for the Eucharist
- Setting aside worldly concerns
- Embracing freedom as the source of love
- Laying down our lives for our fellow man
- Living in Jesus
- Being a mature servant
- Loving as He loved
- Going from gospel to life and life to gospel
These themes work in us to bind us to Jesus in humility. That unity and humility disposes us to be suitable vessels of His peace. They establish a life of minority that provides the opening for Jesus to mold us through peace into people capable of engendering that peace in others.
If we our filled with His peace, it then becomes possible to “cure the wounded, bind up the broken and recall the erring.” We become messengers of peace not by asserting ourselves, but simply by exhibiting the peace that the totality of our Franciscan charism helps Jesus establish within us.
The mission of peace that our profession calls us to is expressed in the last article of Chapter Two (The Way of Life) of our Rule. Perhaps it is located here because in some measure it helps summarize everything that went before.
Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon.
Our role and the role of Jesus in the bestowing of peace remains consistent.
We are the bearers of peace who seek out ways of harmony. Read this portion of the rule again and compare it to the passage from The Anonymous of Perugia. Francis says, “make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts,” and thus we are charged with being bearers of peace. He then says, “let everyone be drawn to peace and kindness through your peace and gentleness,” and thus we are called to be people in search of harmony.
At the same time, the Rule acknowledges that Jesus (not us) is the key to the successful sowing of peace, for our efforts depend on the presence of the “divine seed in everyone.”
Jesus makes Himself present in each person we interact with. That presence is the starting point for peace in that person. As Francis was the trigger for conversion in the passage from Celano that led those who hated peace and salvation to embrace those very things through the presence of Jesus within, we are also called to be triggers by living simple lives close to Jesus that blossom in a peace and harmony that becomes apparent and attractive to others as we journey across this earth.
In closing, let us go back to the verses.
As I reflected, Jesus helped me to connect the words “everything I have said to you” from the first verse to the word “leave” in the second verse. When Jesus states “Peace I leave with you,” He is referring to the entirety of His teaching as He left it behind in the gospels. This is what He is leaving behind for us as a gift that engenders peace. If the entirety of that teaching were to be fully internalized by any one of us, that process would leave us in a state of pure peacefulness.
But Jesus, in His Wisdom, also knew that we would struggle with understanding and recalling that teaching because of our human frailty. The teaching in and of itself was a gift. But to reinforce that gift, He also made a second gift to us, a gift that makes His teaching always current, always recallable, and always understandable (if we can set aside our pride and frailty and be humble enough to ask and listen to the answers.)
In the first verse, the words “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name” then become connected to the word “give” in the second verse. When Jesus states, “my peace I give you,” He is talking about the gift of the Holy Spirit, which He makes available to help us remember and understand His teaching when the going gets tough. If we could fully embrace Franciscan poverty in such a way that we left our worldly concerns completely behind, we could then fully connect to the Holy Spirit and thru Him to the complete teachings of Christ. Again, that connection would leave us in a state of pure peacefulness.
Our internal peacefulness is directly related to our ability to connect ourselves to the life and being of Christ as made present and current to us in the gospels. Our journey of Franciscan conversion commits us to an ever-deeper internalization of the life of Christ. The more conversion we experience, the closer we draw to Jesus, the more peaceful we will become. And as that peacefulness grows within us, it becomes visible to those we encounter in the world, and we can trigger the seed of Christ in other people as Francis did in the story from Celano, as he calls us to in the Anonymous of Perugia, and as the Rule itself calls us to in the article on peace.
Francis was, at his core, both a messenger and a message of pure peace.
Our profession calls us to prepare ourselves through a process of unceasing conversion to the gospel life to be the same.