Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Humble Friar

Although I found interesting parallels with Friedrich Nietzsche, including his love of walking in the mountains, he’s not someone I would emulate. A lifelong bachelor, he had little use for women, alcohol or religion. Despite his best efforts to marry well, he died at age 55 after many years of syphilis-induced dementia.

Someone I could emulate, however (at least in one way), is St. Francis of Assisi. The impoverished friar is recognized far and wide as a friend of animals. Yet his real hallmark was his unwavering commitment to peace, to the considerable extent of crossing enemy lines for an audience with Malik al-Kamil, the sultan of Egypt.

Many know the story of St. Francis and the wolf -- the vicious canine that terrorized the Umbrian city of Gubbio until the humble friar tamed the beast. But few know the largely forgotten story of his daring mission to Egypt to end the Crusades by delivering a message of peace to the leaders of Islam in 1219.

In The Saint and the Sultan, author Paul Moses examines the life of Francis, from his beginnings as a wealthy young merchant from Assisi, his time as a warrior who fought in a vicious battle with neighboring Perugia, his subsequent imprisonment and ransom, and his eventual conversion to a life of poverty in service to God.

In those days, medieval knights were either triumphant or died in battle, unless you had family with money. Then, you languished in prison until your family paid a steep ransom to your enemy -- in the case of Francis, the victorious Perugians. This unpleasant experience led to the decision to reject his knightly role.

But Francis was no doughy-handed war protestor, and he risked the even more daunting task of alienating his family with his commitment to a life of radical poverty that made it impossible to go to war again. He had realized the futility of a culture where competition for wealth and glory bred constant violence, and he would have no more.

His yearning for peace with Islam is especially apparent in his suggestion that Christians live peacefully among Muslims rather than engage in disputes, a provision that appears in the code of conduct for his order. The book produces convincing evidence that Francis was trying to make peace in his historic encounter with Sultan al-Kamil.

As one who weathered nearly a decade of schooling by Franciscan priests and nuns, I already knew quite a bit about St. Francis of Assisi. But The Saint and the Sultan opened my eyes to his primary directive of reconciliation, one which should resonate for all who seek peace between Christians and Muslims.


Anonymous said...

WHere may I ask does Father Clarence, patron saint of flem fit into this parable.

Gonzo said...

You mean the Lord of the Loogie?

Robert Engleheart said...

I always thought of him as the patron saint of the gin blossom.