By Mary Liepold
Pax Christi Metro DC-Baltimore
October 4 was the Feast of St. Francis, patron of ecology and celibate father of the ever-green, 800-year-old Franciscan movement with all its exuberant shoots and branches. No one presumes to know how many Franciscans there are worldwide, or even how many Franciscan orders. We are women and men, religious and lay, Catholics and non-Catholics too. (Though most Franciscans are Roman Catholic, the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans includes members of at least 15 Christian traditions.)
As a Catholic Secular Franciscan, as well as a longtime member of Pax Christi, I struggle to follow the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order. It’s a tall order. Take Article 11, for example:
Let the Secular Franciscans seek a proper spirit of detachment from temporal goods by simplifying their own material needs. . . . In the spirit of the Beatitudes, and as pilgrims and strangers on their way to the home of the Father, they should strive to purify their hearts from every tendency and yearning for possession and power.
The power part is easy; I’ve never felt called to high places. But simplifying? Being purified of possessions? That’s harder. Most of my possessions are second hand, but I am an American, so I’ve got stuff. And it quickly gets harder still. There’s Article 14:
Secular Franciscans, together with all people of good will, are called to build a more fraternal and evangelical world so that the kingdom of God may be brought about more effectively.
And Article 15:
Let them individually and collectively be in the forefront in promoting justice by the testimony of their human lives and their courageous initiatives.
St. Francis says we are all called–Franciscans “together with all people of good will”–and he’s asking us to lead, not to follow; to be in the forefront with our “courageous initiatives.” I like to think that as Pax Christi members we are out in front, ahead of our church hierarchy?possibly excepting Pope Francis?and our political leaders in working to end war. (Some Franciscans and others I know are sure the recent stand-down on Syria was a miraculous answer to Francis’s personal diplomacy and his inclusive call for prayer.)
Secular Franciscans, followers of Francis and Clare, were probably the first Catholic peace activists, or at least the first after Constantine married Jesus’ church of the Beatitudes to earthly power and glory. I say seculars because Francis was a layman who set out to rebuild a church (and a world), not to build a religious order. And for him, peace on earth included peace with the earth. Article 18 says:
Moreover they should respect all creatures, animate and inanimate, which ‘bear the imprint of the Most High,’ and they should strive to move from the temptation of exploiting creation to the Franciscan concept of universal kinship.
Universal kinship is a tall order indeed, possibly even more demanding than justice and courage. “Creatures animate and inanimate” takes us beyond the birdbath Francis and our feathered friends to beings as distinctly un-cuddly as the Tar Sands. Right now, as the project of exploiting creation produces consequences the first Francis could scarcely have imagined, I’m feeling my energy drawn more and more to action for the environment. I welcome the opportunity to remind my new green tribe about the environmental impact of war and the progress that’s being made in developing nonviolent alternatives. Some of my good Pax Christi friends focus on drones. Some prioritize public policy, racism and poverty, peace education, or reducing the domestic arsenal in our homes and on our streets. Some are urgent about justice as a prerequisite for peace, including gender justice. I’m certainly omitting equally weighty issues that concern us all and are particular points of insertion for some of us.
In the Regional Council we talk a lot about sharpening Pax Christi’s message to increase its impact, focusing clearly on one issue or a few. I’ve been around movements long enough to appreciate the power of a single rallying cry, a really good bumper sticker, so I get it. I’m glad we took the time to develop a 2013 action plan for our Metro DC-Baltimore Region that defines and delimits the work we do together. It organizes tasks under six goals. The first: Support each other in practicing the spirituality of nonviolence. Pax Christi USA says we “explore, articulate, and witness to the power of Christian nonviolence” and “reject every form of violence and domination.” That covers a lot because structural violence is all around us, but I’m not sure we can make it any more Franciscan-simple. Universal kinship means everything is connected to everything else.
We are distinct individuals, each with a personal history and a personal walk of faith that make some issues more compelling to us than others. We are individuals who live, or strive daily to live, in an ever-more-complicated world in peace and solidarity. To me, this means that we choose specific activities to take on together, like our upcoming annual awards dinner, guided by our action plan, and we support each other’s additional activities as best we can.
Should we focus on some kinds of violence and exclude others? What do YOU think?