There is an image I couldn’t forget after reading James Martin’s chapter on St. Francis of Assisi in “My Life with the Saints.”
It is the picture of Martin as a young Jesuit seminarian and a gang minister named Brother Bill standing in the middle of a Chicago intersection between two warring gangs. As the two prayed, the gang members exchanged threats and a few glass bottles flew back and forth, shattering on the pavement; then the shouting stopped and the gang members on each side turned and slowly walked away.
“What were we doing here?” Martin wondered.
“We gave them an excuse not to fight,” Brother Bill explained. “With us here they don’t lose face leaving the fight.”
Then he realized, Martin says, “We were doing what Francis of Assisi did … what Dorothy Day did … what Jesus did. … That is, using our bodies as a sign of peace, trying to embody Christ’s message of reconciliation.”
I thought of that a few days later as I was standing next to a 78-year-old woman, sitting on a portable step stool in front of the local post office. She was holding a small “We support gun control” sign, and she was moved to be there because her niece is a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a young gunman killed 17 people on Feb. 14.
Like Martin and Brother Bill, Francis, Dorothy and Jesus, this woman, in her own way, was using her body, her presence, as a sign of peace and reconciliation too.
Over the centuries, Francis of Assisi has been a model and an inspiration to people who are willing to put not just their bodies but their whole lives at the service of the Gospel of peace and reconciliation. These are the people whose very presence in a situation evokes reason, understanding and hope – individuals whose vulnerability leaves them just as naked, and no less inspiring, as Francis was before the townsfolk of Assisi.
I think many of us long to be that kind of person, but we are by habit too cynical, opinionated or combative – too inclined to “take a stand,” invoking the moral high ground and judging those who disagree.
People who practice nonviolent resistance have a phrase to describe peaceful protests; they call it “standing in place.” It’s what Brother Bill and Father Martin were doing; it’s what the woman outside the post office was doing — “using our bodies as a sign of peace, trying to embody Christ’s message of reconciliation.”
I think it’s something to think about, to hope for and to pray for during this Lenten season as we contemplate the crucified Lord, standing in place among us, his broken body a sign of peace and a message of reconciliation.
What do you think?
Pray and Reflect
Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group discussion or private journaling:
- On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how important it is for people of faith to “stand in place” as signs of peace and reconciliation as St. Francis did. How would you have rated it five years ago.
- Can you think of situations in which you “stood in place” as a sign of peace and reconciliation — or situations in which you should, but couldn’t, “stand in place”? What empowers those who can? What prevents those who can’t? How can we help our children, grandchildren and students learn to be more like St. Francis, whose whole life became a witness to peace and reconciliation?
- I think the key to living like St. Francis is …
Join the Conversation
Add your comments to this week’s discussion at http://bit.do/disciples-corner.
Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.
I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. …
He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself.
… [T]o him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. … Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behavior.
Pope Francis, encyclical letter “Laudato Si’” (2015)