What are the things that are worth getting into a fight over?

Maybe a fight to you means something physical. Maybe it’s just a very heated argument. But most of us have some things that we are flexible on, and some things that we will defend with everything we have.

One of my heroes is Saint Francis of Assisi. He’s famous for working for peace, and also for giving away all of his possessions. He didn’t have any “stuff” that he would fight to defend. But the idea of poverty was precious to him, and he most certainly did fight to make sure that his brothers did not keep any material things. “Stuff” like cars and couches can be important to us, but values are even more important.

When Francis died he left his followers with two goals: spreading the gospel to as many people as possible, and live in absolute poverty. His followers quickly realized that it was hard to move quickly without a horse, and it slowed them down to need to beg for food everywhere they went. Later they realized that they would need an education and books in order to preach well, but books were incredibly expensive in the Middle Ages, and they needed to own a building to keep them safe from the rain.

These two goals (evangelize, be poor) clashed, and the Franciscans splintered into different groups, each keeping a different balance. But there was a second clash as well. One side demanded that no matter how fierce the fighting got, they must stay united. Their motto was “unity.” The other’s motto was “what price unity?” Basically, the second group was more loyal to their own vision than the ideal of unity itself.

In today’s gospel, Jesus prays “that they may be one.” He knew that his followers would disagree, that they would fight. He knew that they would have precious ideas worth defending, and that it would be hard for everyone to fit all that he had taught into one way of life. Some people would need to chase poverty, but some would have families they were obliged to support. Yet through it all, he wanted them to stick together.

There is much in this world and in this country that divides us right now. There is an “other” who “doesn’t get it” and it’s easy sometimes to see our own countryman or fellow Christians as “the enemy.” Red vs Blue, city vs country, Orthodox vs Heterodox, strict vs lax. In this moment we hear Christ’s prayer “that they may be one” and it seems impossible. Humanly, it may be. But I would suggest that as a first step toward that Godly goal, we begin by trying to find the good things, the “God things,” in the other side (however small or deeply buried they may be.) Understanding the good things that the other side is fighting for is the first step toward peacefully sharing a place, whether it’s a religious order or a country or a church.  Perhaps we can work on those things together.  It’s when we insist the other side has nothing to contribute (“no, evangelization is the most important” or “no, poverty is the only thing that matters”) that unity is lost. And as Christ also says, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

 

Peace ~ Fr. Dan

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