[Leonardo Boff, 20 April 2014 ] One of the more fertile legacies of Francis of Assisi, actualized by Francis of Rome, is the Prayer for Peace, which is so urgent at the present. Saint Francis initially greeted those he saw by wishing them, “Peace and Good,” which corresponds to the Biblical Shalom. The peace he longed for was not limited to interpersonal and social relations. He sought an everlasting peace with all aspects of nature, calling them by the sweet name of brothers and sisters.
Especially “sister and Mother Earth,” as he called her, was supposed to be embraced with the embrace of peace. His first biographer, Tomas de Celano, summarizes beautifully the feeling of fraternity with the world that filled him when he gave this testimony: «He was filled with ineffable delight every time he saw the sun, when he contemplated the moon, and turned his sight towards the firmament and the stars. When he encountered the flowers he preached to them as if they were endowed with intelligence, and invited them to praise God. He did that with innocence and moving tenderness: he exhorted the vineyards, the wheat fields, the stones and the jungles, the fields of the countryside and the current of the rivers, the beautiful orchards, the Earth, the fire and the wind, to be grateful».
This attitude of reverence and tenderness motivated him pick up slugs from the path, so that no one would step on them. He gave honey to the bees in winter, so that they would not die of hunger and cold. He asked the brothers not to cut the trees from the root, in the hope that they might grow again. Even the weeds had to have a place reserved in the gardens, so that they might thrive, because they also announce “the most beautiful Father of all beings.”
Only those who have listened to the symbiotic resonance within the soul, uniting the environmental ecology with the profound ecology, can experience this intimacy with all beings. Saint Francis never placed himself above things, but besides them, as one who truly coexists as brother and sister, discovering the parental links that unite all.
The Franciscan and ecological universe is never inert; things are neither placed there to be within the reach of the grasping hand of the human being, nor juxtaposed one alongside another, without coexisting with each other. Everything composes a grandiose symphony whose master is the same Creator; all things are animated and personalized. Francis discovered by intuition what we know now through scientific means (Crick and Dawson, deciphered the DNA): that all living beings are related, cousins, brothers and sisters, because we all possess the same basic genetic code. Francis experienced this blood kinship spiritually.
From this attitude was born an imperturbable peace, without fear and threats, a peace of one who always feels at home, with parents, brothers and sisters. Saint Francis totally realized the splendid definition The Earthcharter found for peace: «it is the plenitude created by correct relationships with oneself, with other persons, other cultures, other lives, with the Earth and with the main Whole of which we all are part» (n.16 f).
The supreme expression of peace, a fraternal coexistence and warm welcome to all persons and things, is symbolized in the well known story of the perfect joy. Through an artifice of imagination, Francis posits all types of injuries and violence suffered by two friars (one of them Francis himself). Rain-soaked and coated with mud, they arrive at the convent exhausted. There they are rejected with multiple blows (“beaten with a gnarled stick”), by the porter friar. Even though they had been recognized as friars, they are morally vilified and rejected as people of ill repute.
In the story of the perfect joy, that find parallels in the Buddhist tradition, Francis proceeds, step by step, to dismantle the mechanisms that generate the culture of violence. True joy lies not in self-esteem, or the need for recognition, in performing miracles, or in speaking in tongues. In its place Francis puts the fundamentals of the culture of peace: love, the capacity to endure contradictions, forgiveness and reconciliation beyond any presupposition or previous demand. When this attitude is lived, peace follows, a peace that is interior, inalterable, capable of joyfully coexisting with the harshest opposition, peace that is the fruit of a complete divestment. Are these not the first fruits of the Kingdom of justice, of the peace and love for which we so greatly long?
This vision of peace of Saint Francis represents another mode of being-in-the-world, an alternative to the mode of being of modernity and post-modernity, based on possession and disrespectful use of things for human pleasure with no other consideration.
Even though he lived more than eight hundred years ago, it is Francis of Assisi who is new, not us. We are old and are aged, because with our voracity we are destroying the bases that sustain life in our planet and endangering our future as a species. The discovery of the cosmic fraternity will help us overcome this crisis and will give back to us the lost innocence that is the childlike clarity of adulthood.