In my travels across the United States this summer, it struck me how Christians are caring but also confused and fearful. They want to be loving but have been left with the impression that Muslims and persons of other religions are strangers and possibly dangerous. The problem is not new and neither is the danger of the violence. Christianity found itself in the same situation 800 years ago in Europe during the Middle Ages. The majority were ignorant. Joined with political power this grew into violence, thus initiating the Crusades.
What may be new to us is to find that the real answer was, and is, found in the life of a Christian saint. I am convinced that Christianity needs radicals today in the image of Saint Francis who will spurn violent attitudes and hostility and who do not stereotype Muslims and other religious persons as our enemy. One of the most successful ways to bring down walls of hostility is to meet with other persons.
Francis went with the Crusades to war in Egypt, but he didn’t join their battle. The Crusaders lost their battle. Francis won his. Francis understood that God does not need an army, but messengers of mercy. When we lay down warfare strategies and reach out in friendship, we discover that other religious persons are our fellow human beings, made like us in God’s image. We find friends not enemies.
St. Francis’s first words to Sultan al-Kamil were “Peace to you.” This greeting , which Francis declared was given to him by God, was an innovation in Europe and not always appreciated. It is the traditional and usual greeting still used today in the Muslim lands, “Salaam alaikum’ and is the same greeting with which Jesus greeted people in Aramaic and Hebrew. Jesus greeted the disciples in the same way after the resurrection.
In all his sermons, Francis began with the blessing, “God give you peace.” The people were astonished by this greeting for they never heard any other cleric greet them that way. Some challenged it. Francis said “ Let them talk, they do not have a sense of the things of God. Don’t be ashamed, because nobles and princes of this world will show respect to you because of this greeting.
St. Francis instructed his brothers going to Muslim lands not to preach, but simply live the Christian life in such a way as to be a positive influence. “Wherever you go share the Gospel, sometimes with words…A man is a good preacher just in as much, as he knows how to do goods works faithfully and humbly.”
Peace with others would be all but impossible except for this – It is from God. God is doing it. God has reconciled us to himself, and he is reconciling us with others to establish peace among all people. This is why many Christians continue to pray the prayer of St. Francis.
Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow peace;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that we may not seek so 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 we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Religions do not do violence. In fact, all religions include teaching against violence and calls for peace. People do violence. Violence is not first religious, political, or social. It is a matter of our hearts.
Rev. Jeffrey A. Bos