Though written in simple language, St. Francis’ Peace Prayer provides rich material for spiritual reflection. The following are some of my thoughts on the Peace Prayer inspired by the lines of this prayer and by the example of St. Francis.
Like that of Christ, our mission on earth is to bring to others God’s peace–God’s state of “perfect well-being” and completeness. Shalom is the Hebrew word for this rich concept of “peace.” Often used as a greeting of peace, Shalom is a wish that those so greeted will find healing and fullness of life.
St. Francis saw this as his mission, too. In Chapter 3 of his Rule of 1223, he advised his followers that in going about the world “they should not be quarrelsome or take part in disputes with words…or criticize others; but they should be gentle, peaceful and unassuming, courteous and humble, speaking respectfully to everyone….Whatever house they enter, they should first say, ‘Peace to this house’”(Cf. Luke 10:5). Surely, Francis was an instrument of peace.
In his 9th Admonition, called Charity, St. Francis tells his followers, “Our Lord says in the Gospel, Love your enemies (Matthew 5: 44). A man really loves his enemy when he is not offended by the injury done to himself, but for love of God feels burning sorrow for the sin his enemy has brought on his own soul, and proves his love in a practical way.”
During the violence-ridden Crusades, St. Francis discovered a path of peace, pardon and non-violence. The “little poor man” went to Egypt to engage in a peaceful dialogue with the sultan (head of the Muslim forces), a meeting in which a spirit of forgiveness, respect and understanding prevailed. Francis would have the same message for those in our times who are so quick to see violence as the only cure for terrorism.
When, as a young man, Francis found himself in a fog of doubt as to the nature of God’s care for him, he sought the face of God through prayer in solitary places. God opened Francis’ eyes of faith. The saint saw a vision of Christ gazing at him from the Cross with such a look of love that Francis’ “soul melted,” to use the words of his biographer, St. Bonaventure. The fog of doubt lifted for Francis, and he went through the world setting others free from their own burdens of doubt.
Think of St. Francis embracing lepers and lovingly washing their sores. Surely, many of those suffering souls felt an inner surge of hope and human dignity when they experienced Francis’ care.
The secret of St. Francis’ joyful spirit was his vibrant belief in a God of overflowing goodness and love. St. Francis was so in love with God that at times he would pick up two sticks from the ground, tuck one under his chin like a violin and move the other over it like a bow. Then, in an ecstasy of joy, he would sing in French songs of love and praise to God. Francis used to say that he wanted his followers to go about the world like strolling minstrels, “to inspire the hearts of people and stir them to spiritual joy.” They give us an example to follow in our own day!
Photo: Jack Wintz, OFM