Franciscan Fridays: God Give Us Courage This Advent
Ring in the new Church year and prepare for Christmas with Fr. Joe Rozansky’s four-part Franciscan Friday series on Advent:
|Photo by Per Ola Weiberg|
The Advent readings are beautiful invitations to walk in the ways of the Lord. The reading from Isaiah for the first Monday of Advent speaks about the instruction that the people receive from God for this purpose. As a result of their lesson, the people turn instruments of war into instruments of peace: their swords become ploughshares, and their spears pruning hooks. This reminds us that we cannot just talk about making peace; it is necessary to take concrete steps to bring it about.
Francis of Assisi taught this same lesson. In his Testament, written at the end of his life, he comments on his own life and that of his brothers saying that: “The Lord revealed a greeting to me that we should say: ‘May the Lord give you peace.'” Francis used this greeting continuously throughout his life and taught his brothers to do the same.
When he used it, however, it was not simply an alternative way to say “hi.” Francis lived in a time of great violence in society. Nobles and the rising burgher class were pitted against one another; city-states made war on one another in Italy; nation-states found themselves in conflict; and the Crusades were being waged between Christians and Muslims. In this context, when Francis used the greeting of peace, he was challenging the people around him to change their lives in concrete ways, to look for ways to promote peace.
The brothers understood the intention of Francis. In the early Franciscan writings we hear about two brothers who asked Francis permission NOT to use the greeting of peace. The reason they do this is because they are uncomfortable in challenging people to change their attitudes and their way of living. Francis does not give the brothers the permission they were seeking because he saw promotion of peace as part of the vocation of a Franciscan.
In his own life, Francis found very concrete ways to promote peace. In his home city of Assisi he had his brothers sing a new stanza of his poem Canticle of the Creatures to help heal the conflict between the bishop and the mayor of the city. The story of Francis and the wolf of Gubbio shows how he was willing to put himself at risk to promote dialogue that would bring God’s children together.
In the story of Francis and the Sultan at Damietta, Francis risks death as he seeks to speak with the leader of the “enemy” host during the Crusades, and both he and the Sultan respectfully learn from one another. In three other situations of conflict, Francis promotes peace in the Italian cities of Arezzo, Bologna and Perugia. In each case, Francis creatively finds practical and concrete ways to further the cause of peace.
In our own lives, God invites us to find tangible ways to put the Word into practice, to find ways to promote peace wherever we find ourselves. Whether in our families, at school, at work, or among our friends, God reminds us that, like the people who heard Isaiah and like Francis of Assisi, we need to put into practice the Word of God that comes into our life on a daily basis.
Dear God, give us the courage to allow the Word to enter our minds and hearts, to turn us upside down. Give us the strength to put the Word into practice in concrete ways.
Fr. Joseph Rozansky, OFM is a Franciscan friar of Holy Name Province. He is currently the director of the General Office for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation at the OFM headquarters in Rome. He holds a Masters in Theology from the Washington Theological Coalition, and a Masters in Economics from American University in Washington, D.C. His first assignment was in Goiás, Brazil, where he worked from 1975 to 1985. He worked in formation of new Franciscans for sixteen years, in both Brazil and the United States. He has been in his current position since 2005.