Take time to reflect

Short Reflection: “May God Give You Peace”

1. Interfaith Dialogue and 2. Ecumenism

Sister Joan Kerley, FMSJ

Introduction: Our paper this month has two themes, Interfaith Dialogue and Ecumenism.

Interfaith dialogue refers to relationships between people of various religions, e.g. Christian, Jewish, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist etc. Ecumenism means “the principle or aim of promoting unity among the world's Christian Churches.” In the 13th century Francis would probably have been familiar with 2 branches of Christianity: the “Roman” Church (Western) and the Orthodox Churches (Eastern) because of the historical split in 1054. The Protestant Reformation occurred in the 16th century and, thus, the story of Francis’ meeting with the Sultan, while giving us a marvellous example of interfaith dialogue, does not directly apply to our understanding of ecumenism. Yet the principles of mutual respect, dialogue and search for understanding established by Francis in his time and culture can certainly be extended to modern times in both interfaith dialogue and ecumenism. Each January we are invited to pray for Christian unity during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and it is important to recognize that. I believe that Francis’ countercultural vision and willingness to encounter” the other” in his time can inspire us to do the same in ours, so often torn apart by war, violence and misunderstanding between peoples of different races, cultures and religions. May God give us peace!

Interfaith Dialogue:

            Pope Francis begins his encyclical letter, Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship, by quoting St. Francis who “calls for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance and declares blessed all those who love their brother ‘as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him’”. He recalls Francis’s visit to Sultan Malik al-Kamil in 1219 writing: “Francis did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God. He understood that ‘God is love and those who abide in love abide in God.’  In the world of that time, bristling with watchtowers and defensive walls, cities were a theatre of brutal wars between powerful families, even as poverty was spreading through the countryside. Yet there Francis was able to welcome true peace into his heart and free himself of the desire to wield power over others.”

            When Francis went to Damietta, the soldiers were deeply engaged in the 5th Crusade.  Professor Paul Moses ( talk St. Francis and the Sultan, given at St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY on 16 Oct.2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CQ6xZOweCw ) cites Thomas of Celano’s account. Francis believes God has warned him the battle fail. He consults a friar: ‘If the battle happens on this day, the Lord has shown me it will not go well with the Christians but if I say this, they will take me for a fool but if I keep silent, my conscience won’t let me alone. What should I do?’ He replied: ‘This wouldn’t be the first-time people took you for a fool. Unburden your conscience and fear God, rather than men.’ Francis told the soldiers they would lose, but they ridiculed him. The Muslims won that Crusade, and astonishingly the Sultan provided the Crusaders with food, water and safe passage home, much to the annoyance of the Muslim soldiers.

            Francis wanted to convert the Sultan and to preach peace. The Sultan allowed Francis to preach and the two discussed religious matters. Although neither changed their religious convictions, they were both changed.  In Eager to Love, Richard Rohr writes this meeting offers “an invitation to the kind of interfaith dialogue that provides a much-needed crossing of borders so we can understand other peoples at even basic levels.” (p. 153) Prof. Moses asks us to ponder the facts of this meeting:

  1. Francis went as an ambassador of Christ and greeted the Sultan with peace.
  2. Francis never spoke disparagingly but later others call the Sultan an “evil Beast”.
  3. Both men, committed to their respective faiths, listened and were open to the unexpected.
  4. This encounter models peace for us today. We promote peace among diverse groups by respect, and careful listening.

            When Francis returned from Assisi, he wrote a missionary mandate in his Rule of 1221, advising: 1. Live as a Christian peacefully among unbelievers without arguing or being contentious and 2. Preach the Gospel directly if God calls you to do so. His prayer, “Praises of God,” echoes Islam’s “Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God”.

You are holy, Lord, the only God, and Your deeds are wonderful. You are strong. You are great. You are the Most High. You are Almighty. You, Holy Father are King of heaven and earth. You are Three and One, Lord God, all Good. You are Good, all Good, supreme Good, Lord God, living and true. You are love. You are wisdom. You are humility. You are endurance. You are rest. You are peace. You are joy and gladness. You are justice and moderation. You are all our riches, and You suffice for us. You are beauty. You are gentleness. You are our protector. You are our guardian and defender. You are our courage. You are our haven and our hope. You are our faith, our great consolation. You are our eternal life, Great and Wonderful Lord, God Almighty, Merciful Saviour.

Ecumenism: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: January 18–25, 2021.

We can promote Christian Unity by joining our Christian neighbours in joint projects and prayer, using the Scriptural resources prepared by The Monastic Community of Grandchamp in Switzerland.  This year’s theme is Abide in My Love…You Shall Bear Much Fruit (cf. John 15:1-17). Resources from Churches Together in Britain & Ireland are available to download. They can be found at: https://ctbi.org.uk/resources-for-week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity-2021/

Day 1: Called by God: “You did not choose me but I chose you” (Jn 15:16a)

Day 2: Maturing internally: “Abide in me as I abide in you” (Jn 15:4a)

Day 3: Forming one body: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12b)

Day 4: Praying together: “I do not call you servants any longer, but I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15)

 Day 5: Letting oneself be transformed by the Word: “You have already been pruned by the word…” (Jn 15:3)

Day 6: Welcoming others: “Go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (Jn 15:16b)

Day 7: Growing in unity: “I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn 15:5a)

 Day 8: Reconciling with all of creation: “So that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11)