“While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully
in your heart.”
St. Francis of Assisi
By Fran Lavelle
We are amid a very divisive and heated political election cycle. The flames of division are stoked daily by news outlets, social media, family dinner tables, and yes, even the church. We seek validation of our political agendas by quoting people we respect, often political and religious leaders. I have threatened for years that I am going to write a book entitled, “If we are all right, who’s left?” That is to say that we cannot all be right, all the time. I believe that having deeply held beliefs is a good thing. What we cannot afford to do is judge and dismiss those who think differently than we do. Or worse yet alienate people because we do not see the issues through the same lens, especially those who are members of our family.
We just celebrated the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi a few days ago. Imagery of St. Francis evokes a sense of serenity and peace. He is often featured with deer and forest creatures in painted works and in carvings and statutes there is often a bird on his shoulder or in his hand. He is the patron of animals, merchants and the environment. But he is also well known for a prayer he wrote simply known as the St. Francis prayer. In 1967 the prayer was adapted by Third Order Franciscan and South African songwriter Sebastian Temple. The song is literally part of the soundtrack of my Catholic upbringing. I am certain some of you are humming the familiar tune now. Perhaps the familiarity of the prayer and song has overtime cheapened the message. It begins, “Make me an instrument of your peace … where there is hatred let me sow love.” Notice, St. Francis used the word “instrument.” Miriam Webster defines instrument as a means whereby something is achieved, performed, or furthered. When we pray this prayer, we are asking God to use us to fight the agency of hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness. Further we are asking God to replace them with acts of love, forgiveness, faith, hope, light and joy. If I offer myself as an instrument of His peace, I need to mean it.
In thinking about St. Francis and his feast day, I asked myself how I am doing with the challenge of this prayer. I joke that I am Jesuit trained but hold a deep Franciscan spirituality much like another Francis (wink). There is a great gift in the blending of these two powerful spiritualities.
St. Francis offers a reminder that we are to be instruments, that is we are to be used to make peace. St. Ignatius offers a tool to help us assess how we are doing. In Ignatian spirituality one is asked to perform a daily examen, a review of one’s day if you will. The examen utilizes time set aside for reflection on where God is in your everyday life. There are five steps: offer thanks to God, ask the Holy Spirit for light to see what God is revealing to us, review the day, face your shortcomings, and look toward the day to come. For sure, I fall short. Sometimes my ego gets in the way. Sometimes it is my pride. But as in all growth, awareness is the first step to change.
The spirituality of St. Francis and St. Ignatius both offer great resources to help us navigate an increasingly divisive culture. Following Jesus is not merely an intellectual pursuit. Following Jesus requires action.
While none of us are perfect in this pursuit we are called to live out our faith in word and deed. That brings me back to the contentious political environment we are living in. How do we communicate that we are a Christians? Do our conversations and posts on social media reflect Jesus and his teachings? Our words matter. Are we instruments of love, forgiveness, faith, hope, light and joy? If not, are we adding to the hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness that the world already possesses too much of? I am reminded of a story and quote that I first heard in a homily. It is a fitting reminder that our words matter.
In 1977, Frank Outlaw the president of the Bi-Lo stores is attributed in a Texas newspaper to having said, “Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
Let your words and your light shine that you may illuminate a path for others to follow that they too may reflect Christ. Be kind to one another, after all we belong to the same Father.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson)