Iran News ...


06/02/08

Reflections on the Prayer of St. Francis

By Jonathan Swift, Madonna University

 

With a New Year cacophony of current world calamities ringing in my ear, I have recently been turning more to St. Francis's "Prayer for Peace". I look at the contrasting absurdity of a legislator being prosecuted for tapping his feet in a public toilet (that took three police officers. And how the world laughs at our hang-ups!)  or Christmas shoppers being mowed down in a parking area, or fire devastating houses in California, or children shooting each other in school, or a suicide bomber in faraway Pakistan killing a leader and mobs of people. And all this occurs instantly on TV. screens from America to Finland, from Japan to England. Some of the young people who surround me seem to have a kernel of hope of something that is essential but fleeting. If only I could tap in to it.!

 

 "Where there is hatred, let me sow love." - On a daily basis, the media report that "islamophobia" is sweeping the country. If this is not poppycock, do Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and others have an obligation to change the perception? Do our Islamic brethren at Madonna University know how we react to all this? Have we made any clear public statements decrying this islamophobia?  Have we approached the Islamic community for advisors to help us strengthen our intentions? Can we say with any certainty that our faculty, our student body reflects the diversity we trumpet? We talk diversity but little realize that one of today's greatest conflicts is between unity and diversity. Diversity allows us to thank God for the beauty, the gift of individual differences and to embrace all without prejudice regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, economic condition. Without this, we are adversaries, fragmented by diversity and have betrayed the hope to be found in Francis's prayer.

 

"Where there is injury, pardon." - I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for a mother or a father to see a son or daughter injured, maimed, killed, and who then, clinging to faith, tries to forgive the perpetrator. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and suffering of parents, children, spouses who see their loved ones destroyed before their very eyes. How do we forgive terrorism? Can we pray for suicide bombers? The American Administration repeats "better to have the killing over there than here." It's better to kill men, women and children somewhere else? Are we using the 'self-defense' ploy? Have we no moral compass?  I suppose the problem is that we could never agree on compass directions .A little magnetic compass I used in the Boy Scouts, on the other hand, told me clearly where north was. Where is our "north", our "ultima Thule", our limit? On an elemental level, how do we forgive those who injure our reputations, our feelings at school, in our work, even in our churches, convents, and monasteries?

 

"Where there is doubt, faith." - When I was a youngster in World War 11, huddled in an air-raid shelter as bombs dropped around me, did I have faith it would all go away and the world would be a better place? I doubt it. I cannot doubt unless there are choices and I have to know these choices.  I honestly try to be well-informed in a nation that has the reputation of having the least informed citizens on the planet. In my aging years, like many of my university colleagues, I have made this an exercise in meditation- "cogito ergo sum".  Perhaps age does bring wisdom. Lawrence Katz, Ph.D. who was at Duke University said that "wisdom is a dense and rich network of associations developed through a lifetime of experiences." In my case, reflection on my personal associations tells me that doubt will always be part of my thinking - but like St. Thomas, my faith and hope will prevail.

 

"Where there is despair, hope." The Diversity Group at Madonna has suggested many ideas to make Madonna University a safe, a welcoming and empowering place for those who have despaired of acceptance. Their task is superlatively Franciscan. Have we identified approachable individuals and locales for students and faculty who believe they are singled out for rejection, for abuse, who are afraid, who are ignored, who are aged, who are just "cellophane people"? Do we accept the concept of "outcasts" of society or just pay lip service to rejecting the idea?

 

"Where there is darkness, light." - The darkness of ignorance, the darkness of hatred, the darkness of prejudice. Goodness will prevail. My boss will value my contributions.  Intrinsically, we are filled with hope as human beings - if we have not been totally crushed by others. We see this light and welcome back this great virtue of hope. And then we recall, "Go ye and teach all nations." What a hopeful command! What a gift it is for us at Madonna University to pierce the darkness of ignorance and be given the opportunity to bring the hope of knowledge, of love, of compassion, to others.

 

How many have I known in a long lifetime whose daily lives have been unutterably sad? How many who have regretted their major choices in life? I take every opportunity to work with people who are sad, who are upset all the time. "Our lives are but grains of sand in the seashore of eternity" someone said. Sometimes those lives, however, seem interminably long. Perhaps sadness can be overcome by the compassion, the patience, and the sacrifices of those who genuinely love humanity - who know what it means to be consoled.  What a marvelous vocation to be a teacher or a counselor at a university like Madonna! We know from plentiful research that students are most affected by the enthusiasm and sincerity as well as the knowledge of their tutors. I am surrounded daily by people who are enthusiastic, who love their work. That affects me because these people, however unknowingly, are indeed the disciples of St. Francis because "where there is sadness, (they plant) joy."

 

We are irrevocably tied to the world at large. We have power. If I'm angry at what Syria is doing in Lebanon, I write or call the Syrian consul here. All the Syrian consuls across America communicate the will of Americans to Syria. If I open the arms of Madonna to the disenfranchised, I am opening them virtuously. If I work in a soup kitchen, if I give even a small amount of money to buy dinners for the poor: if I work building houses, churches, schools for the poor, I am doing the work of Francis. If I recognize the dignity of animals and refuse to wear them around my neck, I am doing the work of Francis. When I console families of the recently dead, or visit sick colleagues, I am doing the work of Francis. Since we cannot depend on quality and debate in the Presidential debates to give us the necessary information, this is yet another task. We need to inform ourselves.  Many of us have benefited from scholarships and mentoring. Now it's time to help some needy people in the world follow the same path.

 

The really impressive conclusion about the exhortations in St. Francis's Prayer is that there is no limit to what we can do physically and intellectually to make this world we live in and  from which we draw daily sustenance, a better planet for all God's creatures.

 

About the author: Jonathan Swift,Ph.D., is Director of International Relations at Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan

 

The above piece was first published in Spring 2008 edition of Madonna International Magazine

... Payvand News - 06/02/08 ... --



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