The ‘tender’ pope

Pope Francis gives me hope. As a scholar thinking and writing about just peace, I have written about St. Francis … Continued

Pope Francis gives me hope. As a scholar thinking and writing about just peace, I have written about St. Francis of Assisi, who prayed the famous prayer,Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” This new pope of many firsts—from the new world, a Jesuit, taking the name Francis—seems to want to shine a light on the attributes of St. Francis including humility and a deep concern for the poor and for every living thing. He seems to want the church to return to its roots in the humility of Christ.

This is consistent with the concept of “just peace.” I say that truth, respect and security are necessary for the justice that leads to peace. Indeed, our respect and love for the other, even the enemy other, even the non-human other, is the foundation of our security. Just peace theory also holds that without justice there can be no peace, and justice also includes distributive justice and restorative justice. Just peace theory takes seriously the teaching of Jesus that, in the end, every tribe and nation will be judged according to how it treats the least among us. (Matthew 25)

This is the value that ought to guide our public policy because the structural systemic violence that harms the least among us is the invisible cause of the active violence that we see between individuals, groups, and nations.

In his inaugural homily Pope Francis spoke about the Matthew passage within the context of his reflections about St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, and our duty to protect. In international relations there is a concept called the responsibility to protect (R2P). This means that governments have an obligation to protect their citizens from violence and from crimes against humanity. When governments are unable or unwilling to do this, when the regime itself is the cause of the violence against its own citizens, the international community has a responsibility to protect. This was the logic behind international military intervention in Libya.

However, in his homily, Pope Francis spoke about tenderness and protection. He said: “Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness and even tenderness!

Tenderness. We do not often hear this term even in our religious life. The Gospel according to Otis Redding advises men to “try a little tenderness” with the women in their lives. But, we hardly ever hear of tenderness spoken of in our spiritual or political discourse. Within the multiple meanings of the adjective “tender,” we find the concepts of care, consideration, gentleness. We no doubt shrink from the idea of tenderness because we associate it with its other meanings—fragile, weak, immature, impressionable. Yet, Pope Francis repeated the same sentence twice: “We must not be afraid of goodness or tenderness.”

If we all take this sentence seriously and summon the courage to touch all of creation with gentle hands, and speak to each other with considerate words, to serve the world with love, we can bring an end to the violence that plagues our world. Pope Francis said: “Only those who serve with love are able to protect.” This is a duty to protect that does not require military force. It is true security. It is a protection that extends from ourselves to all of creation.

Pope Francis also spoke of hoping against hope. Our love, tenderness, service, and protection lead to hope against hope that peace is possible. This is a just peace message of just peace possibilities.

  • J. Davis

    This article is an excellent analysis of St. Francis as it applies to our current situation in the world.

  • An-Toan

    Just a footnote . . . I feel that the prayer of Francis of Assisi is among the most meaningful of all Christian writings. It really is great for Westerner-style meditations.

  • J. Davis

    The Story Behind the Peace Prayer of St. Francis

    The Peace Prayer of St. Francis is a famous prayer which first appeared around the year 1915 A.D., and which embodies the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi’s simplicity and poverty.

    According to Father Kajetan Esser, OFM, the author of the critical edition of St. Francis’s Writings, the Peace Prayer of St. Francis is most certainly not one of the writings of St. Francis. This prayer, according to Father Schulz, Das sogennante Franziskusgebet. Forshungen zur evangelishen Gebetslitteratur (III), in Jahrbuch fur Liturgik und Hymnologie, 13 (1968), pp. 39-53, first appeared during the First World War. It was found written on the observe of a holy card of St. Francis, which was found in a Normal Almanac. The prayer bore no name; but in the English speaking world, on account of this holy card, it came to be called the Peace Prayer of St. Francis.

    More information about this prayer can be found in Friar J. Poulenc, OFM, L’inspiration moderne de la priere « Seigneru faites de moi un instrument de votre paix », Archivum Franciscanum Historicum, vol. 68 (1975) pp. 450-453.

    The Peace Prayer of St. Francis

    by an anonymous Norman c. 1915 A.D. Peace Prayer

    Lord make me an instrument of your peace

    Where there is hatred,

    Let me sow love;

    Where there is injury, pardon;

    Where there is error, truth;

    Where there is doubt, faith;

    Where there is despair, hope;

    Where there is darkness, light;

    And where there is sadness, Joy.

    O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled

    As to console;

    To be understood,as to understand;

    To be loved, as to love.

    For it is in giving that we receive,

    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

    And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.