Saint Francis (the Peacemaker) and the Wolf

Never has the world needed a peacemaker more than today. We need a peacemaker to settle the wars in the Middle East. We need a peacemaker to keep us from a new war with North Korea. We need a peacemaker in our cities and communities to help prevent the growing mass murders and acts of terrorism. We need a peacemaker to help families mend and prevent domestic violence. We need a peacemaker to tame the wolf.

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4525287889_e0bd25fbe9This morning I read the following excerpt on Facebook. It’s from Jim Forest’s book, The Ladder of the Beatitudes. I haven’t read this book, but I loved his book Praying With Icons. I’m reprinting the excerpt about St. Francis here with the author’s permission. I hope lots of people read this and share St. Francis’ message of peace, courage, faith, hope, and love.

Today is the feast of St Francis. He was born in Assisi, in central Italy, in 1182. He started out as a wealthy man-about-town until he fell into a serious illness in his 19th year. He was praying in the dilapidated Church of St. Damiano one day in 1206, and he heard the voice of Christ saying, “Go, Francis, and repair my house which, as you see, is fallen into ruin.”

One of the stories of his many efforts as a peacemaker comes toward the end of his life and concerns Gubbio, a town north of Assisi. The people of Gubbio were troubled by a huge wolf that attacked not only animals but people, so that the men had to arm themselves before going outside the town walls. They felt as if Gubbio were under siege.

Francis decided to help, though the local people, fearing for his life, tried to dissuade him. What chance could an unarmed man have against a wild animal with no conscience? But according to the Fioretti, the principal collection of stories of the saint’s life,

“Francis placed his hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, master of all creatures. Protected neither by shield or helmet, only arming himself with the sign of the Cross, he bravely set out of the town with his companion, putting his faith in the Lord who makes those who believe in him walk without injury on an asp … and trample not merely on a wolf but even a lion and a dragon.”

Some local peasants followed the two brothers, keeping a safe distance. Finally the wolf saw Francis and came running as if to attack him. The story continues:

“The saint made the sign of the Cross, and the power of God . . . stopped the wolf, making it slow down and close its cruel mouth. Then Francis called to it, ‘Brother Wolf, in the name of Jesus Christ, I order you not to hurt me or anyone.”

The wolf then came close to Francis, lowered its head and then lay down at his feet as though it had become a lamb. Francis then censured the wolf for its former cruelties, especially for killing human beings made in the image of God, thus making a whole town into its deadly enemy.

“But, Brother Wolf, I want to make peace between you and them, so that they will not be harmed by you any more, and after they have forgiven you your past crimes, neither men nor dogs will pursue you anymore.”

The wolf responded with gestures of submission “showing that it willingly accepted what the saint had said and would observe it.”

Francis promised the wolf that the people of Gubbio would henceforth “give you food every day as long as you shall live, so that you will never again suffer hunger.” In return, the wolf had to give up attacking both animal and man. “And as Saint Francis held out his hand to receive the pledge, the wolf also raised its front paw and meekly and gently put it in Saint Francis’s hand as a sign that it had given its pledge.”

Francis led the wolf back into Gubbio, where the people of the town met them in the market square. Here Francis preached a sermon in which he said calamities were permitted by God because of our sins and that the fires of hell are far worse than the jaws of a wolf which can only kill the body. He called on the people to do penance in order to be “free from the wolf in this world and from the devouring fire of hell in the next world.” He assured them that the wolf standing at his side would now live in peace with them, but that they were now obliged to feed him every day. He pledged himself as “bondsman for Brother Wolf.”

After living peacefully within the walls of Gubbio for two years, “the wolf grew old and died, and the people were sorry, because whenever it went through the town, its peaceful kindness and patience reminded them of the virtues and holiness of Saint Francis.”

Is it possible that the story is true? Or is the wolf a storyteller’s metaphor for violent men? While the story works on both levels, there is reason to believe there was indeed a wolf of Gubbio. A Franciscan friend, Sister Rosemary Lynch, told me that during restoration work the bones of a wolf were found buried within the church in Gubbio.

Francis became, in a sense, the soldier he had dreamed of becoming as a boy; he was just as willing as the bravest soldier to lay down his life in defense of others. There was only this crucial difference. His purpose was not the defeat but the conversion of his adversary; this required refusing the use of weapons of war because no one has ever been converted by violence. He always regarded conversion as a realistic goal. After all, if God could convert Francis, anyone might be converted.

“They are truly peacemakers,” Saint Francis wrote in his Admonitions, “who are able to preserve their peace of mind and heart for love of our Lord Jesus Christ, despite all that they suffer in this world.”

Mental Health Monday: I’ll Fly Away

Someone on Facebook wrote a poignant post yesterday about the mass shooting in Orlando. Her point was that when the attack happened in Paris last year, it was all over Facebook, with Americans showing solidarity with Paris through their posts, and yet the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history happens and Facebook seems quiet, merely full of everyone’s happy posts about their vacations and celebrations, which is certainly what I’m guilty of. This person’s words were sobering and caused me to stop and think about how we respond to such a tragedy. Have these events become so common place that we are numb to them?

WWII MuseumThose thoughts were on my mind yesterday afternoon when I went to the World War II Museum here in New Orleans. We watched a terrific film before touring the museum, and the sheer numbers of deaths in so many countries was mind boggling. So what’s the relationship between a mass shooting and World War II? What struck me was this: evil.

How did the Orlando shooter, with his known history of mental instability and vocal messages of hate go unchecked? What can be done BEFORE someone like this has reached his boiling point and killed 50 people? What could have been done to check Hitler and prevent him from creating an army to carry out his hateful agenda, which eventually cost the world millions of lives to stop his crusade?

I don’t have any answers, but I pray for our leaders who might be in a position to do something about this culture of hate that has become so pervasive in our country, and all over the world.

Bill Jon Carrie SusanAnd about those vacations and celebrations…. My husband and I didn’t cancel our trip to Paris last month in the wake of the terrorist attacks there, and we are celebrating our 46th wedding anniversary (today) here in New Orleans, where we’ve enjoyed dining at terrific restaurants, museums, shopping, and site-seeing in a city that knows how to celebrate life.

Yesterday at brunch at Commander’s Palace, our son (who lives here) asked the band to play “I’ll Fly Away” when they stopped at our table, and I thought about my mother who “flew away” to Heaven a couple of weeks ago, and about everyone who embraces a spiritual path that includes the hope of a better life after death. I wondered if the victims in the night club in Orlando had time to hope, to embrace the possibility of an eternity beyond the terror and evil of the moment. I imagine that most of them did not have that time, with the killings happening so quickly. One text message to family that was shared on the news indicated that the victim was hiding in the restroom and the killer was in there and he was about to die. I hope that in his final moment he was able to grab hold of hope. I hope that he was able to fly away.

My entree? Duck and poached eggs on blueberry pancakes!

My entree? Duck and poached eggs on blueberry pancakes!

Meanwhile, we continue to celebrate, refusing to let evil and hate rule our lives. Today is our last day in NOLA, and we’re looking forward to our final anniversary dinner tonight before driving home tomorrow. Thank you, New Orleans, for a wonderful time!

Signature turtle soup - yum!

Signature turtle soup – yum! And a delicious French 75 cocktail, infused with basil. Amazing!

Faith on Friday: A Stranger and You Did Not Invite Me In

8428913My dear friends, Nawar and Reem Mansour gave me a beautiful gift a couple of years ago. It’s a volume of icons of the Mother of God, written by William Hart McNichols, a priest and icon painter who lives in Taos, New Mexico. The icons are accompanied by poems written by Mirabai Starr, who also lives in Taos and leads retreats on the connections between teachings of the mystics, contempolative practice, and social action. (You can watch Mirabai reading one of her poems from the book here.) The title of the book (which is also the name of one of the icons inside—the one Mirabai reads is the video) is Mother of God Similar to Fire. The icons and poetry are both breath-taking. (I did a post about the book in February of 2012, here.)

I picked the book up today because I wanted to turn my heart towards the Mother of God in preparation for the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos (Mother of God) into the Temple, which Orthodox Christians celebrate on November 21. We will have Vespers for the feast at St. John Orthodox Church in midtown Memphis tonight and Liturgy tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.

Back to the book. It’s no coincidence that the gift-givers (the Mansours) are from Syria (Nawar) and Iraq (Reem). They know firsthand the horrors of the wars in the Middle East. And so the poems/prayers in the book have even more meaning.

 

Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations

Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations

As Americans argue over whether or not to let Syrian refugees into our country, I pray to “Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations” with the words of the poet: (excerpts only as I do not have permission to reprint the entire poem)

Holy Mother of all people,

erase the lines we have drawn to separate us,

nation from nation,

tribe against tribe.

Melt our frozen hearts….

Safe in your embrace,

how could we hold onto any concept of “other”?

…that your message of peace and justice

may penetrate the troubled minds of all leaders….

 

 

Mother of God She Who Hears the Cries of the World

Mother of God She Who Hears the Cries of the World

And then I turn to the “Mother of God, She Who Hears the Cries of the World”:

 

Mother of Mercy,

the cries of the world keep me awake at night….

Give me the courage to follow the crumbs of heartbreak

all the way home to the place where I can be of real service.

 

I pray these prayers not only for myself, but for our leaders who have the power to make decisions that affect thousands, if not millions, of lives. I ask the Mother of God to give me—and those leaders—courage. Because isn’t it fear that pushes us to shut our borders to those who are escaping from the terrorists?
How will we answer when God says to us, “I was a stranger and you did not invite me in….” (Matthew 25:43)?

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Mental Health Monday: Trip Insurance

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I’ve traveled all over the world with my husband, but I’ve never been to Paris. So next May we’re going on an “immersion” trip with another couple (and a small group). We’ll be staying in apartments just outside the city and taking daily excursions without having to unpack and move from place to place. Perfect.

Paris. When the recent terrorist attacks happened there, in addition to the overwhelming sorrow I immediately felt for the victims and the whole city and country, I also felt a wave of discomfort about our upcoming trip. Would we be safe there? My husband travels internationally fairly often, speaking at medical meetings. He’s been to India and China several times. Those trips always make me a little nervous. But who would have thought that Paris would feel like a potentially unsafe destination?

At our church’s women’s retreat this past weekend, a woman asked our speaker (who is from London) a question about forgiving our enemies, in light of what had just happened in Paris. The speaker had just talked about how loving our enemies is “the measure of our likeness to God.” A hush fell over the room when he said this. He talked about how Christ prayed for those who crucified Him, even while hanging on the cross. We talked about what “our crosses” were and what it meant to truly love our enemies. Could we possibly love the terrorists who murdered all those people in Paris?

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That’s an ongoing spiritual struggle. Meanwhile, on the practical side, my husband and I got out the brochure about trip insurance yesterday afternoon to read the fine print and decide whether or not we needed to invest in some protection. One of the events covered in the brochure is “Trip Cancellation/Interruption Due to Terrorist Incident.” Who knows what the odds are that another attack would happen in Paris while we are there? But the cost of the insurance relative to what we would lose if the trip was cancelled is relatively small (about 10% of the trip cost) so I think we’re going to make the investment. We’ll be purchasing a bit of financial peace of mind. Will we be worrying about our safety while we are there? Possibly, but as a friend pointed out recently, if terror can strike as randomly as in a church prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, there’s no “safe place.” (This friend was in Tunisia when the beach massacre happened this summer.) For people of faith, our “safety” is only in God’s will. Prayer is the best trip insurance.

Mental Health Monday: Everywhere is War—How Can We Help?

SKR-4-3-cover-PROOFI’m late getting this post written today because my heart is heavy. I’ve just read Angela Doll Carlson’s article in the new issue of the *Saint Katherine Review, “Everywhere is War.” Carlson is author of Nearly Orthodox: On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition. As a mother, Carlson reflects on the effects of not only wars overseas but violence near our homes—and especially in our children’s schools. She says:

We are in fact, our own worst enemies. The evil of mass shooting isn’t, finally, some outside force. It’s not aliens invading. It’s not a metaphysical phenomenon, demons approaching, or acid rain, tsunami, earthquake or invasion. It is human, and it arrives on choice, one person, one trigger pull at a time.

Carlson and her husband know something about violence from their experience shooting a documentary film in Guatemala City. There was an uprising near their hotel and they were forced to find shelter elsewhere until it was over.

And she knows something about the effect of violence on the next generation, as she reacts (or over-reacts?) to her sons’ enjoyment of violent video games:

…these are my boys, and I am afraid when I hear them laugh in response to death, even animated, video game death.

I had that same struggle when my children were young. I’ve always hated violent video games. Really any war games—even those waged with water pistols by the barefoot children of summer growing up in Mississippi.

A recent article in BMC Medicine examines how the affects of war can propagate across generations. How it affects not only the soldiers involved and their immediate families, but the cultures devastated by violence, and the generations that follow. Yes, even children yet to be born.

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Khadoug Sawady, a Syrian refugee, holds her infant daughter

Khadoug Sawady, a Syrian refugee, holds her infant daughter

I’m sure there are many organizations involved in serving the victims of war and other disasters, but I’m going to mention just one in this post. It’s the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). Our (Orthodox Christian) parish here in Memphis is collecting donations for emergency kits to send to victims in Syria, Armenia, northern Iraq and their environs. CLICK HERE to learn what to send and how to send materials for (1) Baby kits, (2) School kits and (3) Hygiene Kits.

Maybe we can’t prevent the inter-generational affects of war, but we can at least help comfort those who are suffering.

*Note: Three prose pieces from the Saint Katherine Review have been nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize. Kudos to my friend, the editor, Scott Cairns!

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