“Most of the quotes attributed to famous people are wrong.” — Abraham Lincoln
You probably know the Prayer of St. Francis – you make have heard the hymn version, “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace”, which has been arranged many times (my favorite is in the Broadway musical Come From Away). I’ll post the prayer in full at the bottom of this.
Yeah, that prayer emerged in France in 1912.
But despite its misattribution, it speaks to the even bigger challenge that Francis’ radical embrace of peace confronts us with. It is not enough for peace to simply not be warriors. It is not enough for peace even to prefer peace, or love peace. Francis brought peace and made peace through the radical choices he made, radical choices rooted in his urgent desire to follow Jesus.
Both of my favorite books on Francis go deep into this topic, but I’m leaning heavily on my friend Bret Thoman’s book here. Francis was able to bring peace to warring parties – be they families or political leaders or the Sultan battling Crusaders or even a wolf terrorizing a town – through two simple steps:
- To bring peace, be at peace
- To be at peace, consider yourself nothing.
There’s a difference between “simple” and “easy”, right?
Francis’ embrace of poverty went beyond the (already impossibly challenging) renunciation of money and possessions. His poverty meant aligning himself with those who were similarly powerless and penniless, and in doing so, to take humility to such a level that I used “consider yourself nothing” above because “be humble” sounds too deceivingly possible.
Following the impoverishment of Jesus, the God-become-poor-man, Francis lived as if he were the servant of all. Lepers. Thugs. You name it. He treated everyone as if they were Jesus, whether they acted the part or not, whether they looked the part or not.
And, it turns out, when you are servant to all, and you possess nothing, apparently you can be pretty peaceful, because you can’t be disrespected if you proactively relinquish any claim to respect. You can’t be robbed of anything if you don’t have anything to begin with. And if you actively seek the lowest spot on the hierarchy, you’ll never worry about losing your seat or get worked up about someone cutting in line. Maybe the peace comes from the act of giving up, the choice to be powerless and last.
There is a separate point that often gets boiled out of popular depictions of Francis but are unmistakable in the stories about his life. His peace was rooted in his surrender of status and wealth, yes. But that surrender made him peaceful because it enabled him to better align himself with Jesus. When he went to bring peace, Francis did it through his own example, yes, but he was explicit about his example being rooted in the Gospel. He may have earned the respect of the leader of the Islamic world through his peacefulness, but Francis crossed battle lines to meet the Sultan in order to share the Gospel with him and convert him. While he may not have succeeded, Francis didn’t fail to see the reflection of his Jesus in the Islamic leader, even if he wasn’t a professed Christian.
So if we’re serious about being peacemakers and not just peace lovers, we have to ask ourselves more hard questions.
What are we holding onto that we won’t surrender?
What do we allow to rob us of peace?
Who are we unwilling to think of as above us in life?
In whose face are we unable to see Jesus?
Because the lesson Francis gives us is, those things are the things we need to surrender, and those people are the people we need to seek out and embrace, if we hope to be an instrument of peace.
By the way, that prayer? Franciscans like the message, but the reason they know Francis didn’t create it? Too much “me.” “Make me” and “let me” aren’t the way complete humility thinks.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.
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