Friday, September 28, 2012

Francis and the Diaconate

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek 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.

This prayer, attributed to St Francis of Assisi, doesn't actually date before 1912. That's not to say it isn't a Franciscan prayer. From what we know of this colourful and yet simple man, these words could easily have poured from his heart. These words are perhaps overused by popular spirituality. Yet they are worth reflecting on.

Can we honestly pray this prayer in full?

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, let me sow pardon;
where there is doubt, let me sow faith;
where there is despair, let me sow hope;
where there is darkness, let me sow light;
and where there is sadness, let me sow joy.

The question that is now posed to us is how we go about our lives as this instrument of the peace of God. There is pure activity here: a Quietist would be dreadfully uncomfortable praying this prayer because it speaks of human activity that does the will of God.

Our Christian lives abide in a great tension between being and doing, and this tension has indeed gone some way to splitting the Church. Perhaps it's fair to say that being isn't a passive activity either but rather a way of communicating that being to others. While there is such a disfigurement in the human condition by which we are drawn to sin rather than sanctity, human beings are still bearers of the image of God Himself. It is something which every human being has in common with every other - even with our worst enemies!

We cannot get away from God in ourselves. In the 139th Psalm, the Psalmist demonstrates that whether we go up into heaven or into Sheol, or to the East or West, we cannot get away from God. God is within! Not spatially, but beyond what we understand as space. After all, in God we live and move and have our being.

Whether this is a prayer by St Francis or not, we can still understand the depth of his awareness of God in all things. Take the Cantico di fratre sole from which we get the hymn
All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!
Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light.
Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them His glory also show.
And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care!
And thou most kind and gentle Death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod.
Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!
Perhaps we can see why the prayer to be an instrument of God's peace is so Franciscan. It tries to forge the connections between human beings. We cannot be truly human if we seek only things to happen to us, but rather if we make things happen for others then is our true humanity exposed.

Of course, biologically, we share much with the animal kingdom. We may indeed have an irrevocable affinity with God's creation, but we go beyond it with that reasoning that asks "why?" and that questions our very being. This does not mean we can ever separate ourselves from either the animal kingdom nor from our affinity with the angels. God's Creation is a whole. Human beings are called into stewardship to take care of this world. It is fair to say, we are not doing the greatest job.

The moment we realise that we should not expect the world to come to us, the closer we are to finding God within ourselves. We seek first the kingdom of God by the observation of His rule and all good things are added unto us as we perceive the truth of what God has done in His Creation. Then with a greater understanding of His work, we find the true peace of God which will pass our understanding.

The truth is we can only find God's peace if we are prepared to be instruments of it. But what will we sow?

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