The lesson of St. Francis of Assisi

August 27, 2013
Source: District of the USA

On the occasion of Eid-Al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan, Pope Francis, on July 10, 2013, personally signed the message which the Vatican addresses every year to the Muslims, as John Paul II had done in 1991. This message was made public on August 2, and on Sunday, August 11, during the Angelus on St. Peter’s Square, the Supreme Pontiff repeated: “I would like to greet the Muslims of the entire world, our brothers, who recently celebrated the end of the month of Ramadan.”

The pope presented his gesture as an “expression of esteem and friendship towards all Muslims, especially towards their religious leaders,” and he called on Christians and Muslims to promote “mutual respect through education.” Thus the reader finds, with regard to “mutual respect in interreligious relations, notably between Christians and Muslims,” the remark : “...what we are called to respect is the religion of others, its teachings, its symbols and its values.” And the Pontiff’s message added in the following paragraph:

It is clear that, when we show respect for the other’s religion or when we offer him our best wishes on the occasion of a religious festival, we simply seek to share his joy without however making any reference to the content of his religious convictions."

Contrary to what is stated, this is not clear. It is even quite paradoxical. How can anyone “respect the other’s religion, its teachings, its symbols and its values, how can anyone "share his joy” without thereby “making any reference to the content of his religious convictions?" Is this a purely external, pharisaical respect? How is this respect perceived by those who receive such an “expression of esteem and friendship?

A confusion pervades this text. The respect due to other persons does not entail respect for their religion when it opposes the revealed truth of the Triune God, as is the case with Islam. Just as the zeal of the doctor for the health of his sick patient is measured by his zeal to combat the sickness which from he suffers, so love for the sinner is proportionate to the detestation of the sin from which one wants to deliver him.

In his message to the Muslims, the pope cites his patron saint, Francis of Assisi, whom he describes in these terms: “a very famous saint who loved God and every human being so profoundly that he was called the ‘universal Brother.’” Here is how the Poverello replied, in 1219, when the Sultan of Egypt, Malik al-Kamil, said to him: “Your Lord taught you in His gospels not to return evil for evil, and even to give up your cloak.... Therefore Christians should not invade my States, don’t you agree?” The saint made this reply:

It seems that you have not read the whole Gospel of Our Lord the Christ, for elsewhere it says: ‘If thine eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee....’ With that He meant to teach us that however dear a man may be to us and however close a relative he may be, even if as precious to us as our own eye, if he appears to go astray from the faith and from the love of Our Lord, we must separate from him, pluck him out and cast him far from us. That is why Christians were right to invade the lands that you occupy, because you blasphemed Christ’s name and stopped everyone you could from worshipping Him. But if you were willing to know our Creator and our Redeemer, to profess Them and render Them homage, Christians would cherish you as they cherish one another." (Account of the friar who accompanied St. Francis during that interview, as reported by St. Bonaventure.)

St. Francis rightly distinguishes here between the rejection of error and love for those whom he hopes to be able to cherish, provided that they acknowledge Christ.

Fr. Patrick Laroche, a professor at the seminary in Zaitzkofen, Germany, and author of a doctoral dissertation on “the evangelization of the Muslims in France” (Strasbourg, 2001) declared during a conference given in Paris, on March 8, 2006 (in Nouvelles de Chretiente no. 98, March-April 2006):

Having assimilated the ideals of two centuries of liberal culture, the post-conciliar Church gives more weight to the word of man than the Word of God; therefore her mission is no longer the propagation of the Faith which gives birth to love, but the dialogue from which, according to its proponents, should follow mutual respect and universal fraternity. If She lowers her mission to a merely worldly level, She merits the reproach of being unfaithful to her Savior."

And he cites Raymond Lulle (1232-1315):

Let the Church cease to be missionary, and immediately She is threatened by internal weakness. The forgetting of her initial fervor explains the rise of Islam which already has cut off Christendom from half of its lands and faithful."

Fr. Charles de Foucauld, too, wrote to Rene Bazin in 1906:

Learn well by heart that it is only by Christianizing the Muslims that you will civilize them, that it is by civilizing them that you will integrate them, and that it is by integrating them that you will add other Cyprians and Augustines to your Vincent de Pauls and the Cures of Ars."

Breaking with Tradition, the message to the Muslims dated July 10, 2013, is right along the lines of the Second Vatican Council: its Declaration on the Church’s Relations with non-Christians, Nostra Aetate (November 28, 1965) states in section 3:

The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the decrees of God, though they be hidden, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging Him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet; his virgin Mother they also honor, and even at times devoutly invoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds, and fasting.”

This conciliar Declaration does indeed refer to the content of the religious convictions professed by the Muslims. This raises several questions: In what do they desire “to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God,” while they reject Revelation? How do they adore “the God who has spoken to men” when they reject the revelation of the Son of God? How do they honor “the virgin Mother” of Him Whom they do not acknowledge as God? How can they honor the Mother if they disdain her Son, “the blessed fruit of her womb?

But especially in the following paragraph of that same section 3 we see that this message does indeed echo the Declaration Nostra Aetate:

Even though throughout the centuries many quarrels and enmities have arisen between Christians and Muslims, the sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote social justice, moral values, peace, and liberty."

In order to forget the past, must we close our eyes to the present, in other words, to the martyrdom of so many Christians in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines? To the injury of the bloody persecution of which they are the victims, must we add the insult of forgetting their witness, which is costing them their lives?

Preferring not to promote this forgetfulness which had been dictated by the interreligious dialogue of the preceding 50 years, the General Chapter of the Society of St. Pius X was anxious to recall in its final statement dated July 14, 2012:

We wish to unite ourselves to the other Christians persecuted in different countries of the world who are now suffering for the Catholic Faith, some even to the extent of martyrdom. Their blood, shed in union with the Victim of our altars, is the pledge for a true renewal of the Church in capite et membris, according to the old saying: sanguis martyrum semen christianorum."

(DICI, 8-20-2013)