So here’s something we have in common with 13th century Italy. Then as now, young men were steeped in a culture that glorified violence as the path to significance. If you wanted to *be somebody*, as a guy back then, you wanted to be a knight, a warrior.
Francis was no exception as a youth. To make something of himself, he took up arms and traveled to the next town to fight for his team. Off he went to war, battling the neighboring Perugians, which didn’t go so well. He was captured, and spent a year in prison before his family paid his ransom, and it took a toll on him that left him in a funk of convalescence and doldrums for another year.
But back he went, because if you wanted to be a real man, you went out to fight. Pause and think about the stories in the last week, month, year, that center around young men primed for violence by the expectation that that was the noble thing to commit oneself to.
On his way back to battle, Francis had a dream, where he heard a question: “Would you rather serve the Lord or the servant?” And when he answered, “the Lord,” he heard, “Then why are you trying to make the Lord into the servant?” And that’s when he knew it was God, telling him that choosing to be a warrior was choosing something other than serving God.
And what about today? When you look at where people place their hearts, where we find meaning, we try to elevate a lot of things to the top spot that don’t belong there. Pew says that Americans are far more likely than others to say that their spiritual life gives them meaning, but it’s still about 15% of Americans who say that, and my guess is that for many of those 15%, their spiritual life revolves around a God that is enmeshed with their political party or race or country.
There is a lot to say about Francis of Assisi and peacemaking, but the first hurdle to face is this: what secondary goods, like country or politics, do we elevate above serving God and loving others?
This is another hard lesson from Francis. Look, my dad served in the armed forces twice, as a Marine pilot in World War II and as a Navy dentist during the Korean conflict. I have good friends who served our country in contemporary war zones, and friends with kids in the military today. I grew up playing Little League on a Navy base and watching Red Dawn. It is a challenge for me to say that military service is not a noble calling.
When Francis gave up his weapons, his primary impetus wasn’t explicitly that God told him fighting was bad. But in some ways, what he heard was even more challenging, because the question he heard applies to all of us, regardless of whether or not we aspire to be warriors.
A few Sundays ago was the Feast of Christ the King, and while that title is an old one, the feast wasn’t instituted until 1925, by a pope who was concerned by the rise of secularism and nationalism in the world (and was maybe a little bitter that Italy had unified, shrinking Vatican power). It’s still timely to ask ourselves, who are WE serving with OUR lives? The master, or just a servant?
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