Today, on the Feast of St. Francis, many churches across the United States will be holding prayer services or vigils as we again gather and attempt to make sense of yet another mass murder at the hands of a rampaging gunman. Once again, we are confronted with the claim, “Worst Mass Murder in US History,” and we use words like “unimaginable,” and “shocking.” Once again we see photos of people whose lives have been violently cut short, and hear stories of other people whose lives have been radically changed forever among the wounded, the first responders, and their families. Once again we are left with shock, rage, sorrow. One again we debate whether now is the time to act to take concrete action to repudiate the forces that make our country the gun violence capital of the industrialized world.
We need peace—real peace. Which brings us back to St. Francis.
Even though most scholars realize that it is highly unlikely that St. Francis actually wrote the famous peace prayer that bears his name, nonetheless the sentiments in that prayer beautifully express the components of a society grounded in love, justice and peace—one in which, no matter what we keep saying, events like those that have battered us this week, and almost every single day this year, truly become unimaginable.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, 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.
One of the theological claims attributed to St. Francis was a sense of unity and harmony in all creation, the idea that the love of God is revealed in the natural world, as St. Francis extolled in his Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. What if each of us dedicated ourselves to being a means of bringing about peace, pardon, unity, and light? What if we stopped ourselves when tempted to hatred, discord, despair, or darkness, and instead acted in concrete ways to cast aside our fragile, jagged veneer of cynicism, choosing instead to embody love, faith, hope, and light? This changing of direction is emblematic of true repentance, which at its most basic means to radically change direction and try a new path. Especially if the path we are currently on leads to so much suffering and pain, repentance actually represents the way of wisdom and hope.
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.
This section of the prayer reinforces the outward focus of our actions as the manifestation of the gospel, and it stands out as upending of the values of our society that only serve to separate us, to set us one against the other, and instead celebrate the divine love that binds us together and encourages to see the face of Christ in every face. It is in this giving that we are rendered fully aware of the dignity and worth of every living thing, made beautiful by the imprint God has placed within each part of creation—to see that, in the words of the poet and mystic Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
Even as we are plunged into a time of overwhelming sorrow, there is power in knowing that together we grieve, but then we can choose to honor those who have lost their lives by this time not turning back to our own concerns. We can choose to take Christ’s call to us to be disciples into our hearts and be transformed. We can choose to become instruments of peace. The gospel of Christ offers us that power—if we believe. And then choose to act, in the name of the love, and the community that love makes of us, as disciples walking in the way of Christ.
Dare we believe in what we claim?
Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and newly ordained priest in the Diocese of Missouri, at this time serving as an assisting priest at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis. Her blog, where she posts daily prayers, is called Abiding in Hope.
Image: Letting Go by Leslie Scoopmire