St. Francis of Assisi is a beloved saint to many, but often a mischaracterized one. Usually shown with animals, the mainstream vision of Francis is tame and gentle. However, St. Francis was an intense and radical preacher, consumed with zeal for the Kingdom of God and intent on relaying the truth to others, including Muslim sultans.
Toward the end of his life, St. Francis wrote a letter to all the rulers and leaders of the people that was not only powerful at the time, but provides us with lessons on how to be better citizens and lawmakers.
In the letter, he urges leaders to not forget the Lord and his commandments or they will be cursed, put aside all cares of the world and receive the body and blood of Jesus, and give God praise and thanksgiving or render an account to God on the day of judgment.
St. Francis’ words remind us that, like him, we must enter into the public arena to be of service to our public servants. We must remind them of their obligations and the lofty calling of politics — what Pope Francis called one of the highest forms of charity.
Civic leaders need friends
For citizens, St. Francis sets an example of a way we can relate to our legislators. He wrote these words because he had genuine care for the people to whom he was writing. He did not see them as far away or above him, but as people with whom he had a responsibility to befriend and call to holiness.
His letter is not a laundry list of policy recommendations. Instead, it reminds leaders of the need to keep the commandments and of the judgment to which they are ultimately subject due to their grave responsibilities.
While it may not be prudent to rush out to remind our legislators about the reality of hell, as St. Francis did, his letter does encourage us to also consider more fully our relationships with legislators. We want to follow the lead of St. Francis and have relationships with our legislators that aren’t utilitarian. As we participate in advocacy, we must not see those in office merely as people who can get us what we want, viewing our interactions with them as solely “transactional.”
Instead, we need to strengthen and encourage those representing us in office. We can be a resource for them in the community, and we can pray for them. We need to remind them why they are doing their jobs, who they represent and the good that they can do. And then thank them when they do it.
Our support, not just our demands, as constituents can help our legislators make good and right decisions. And though we don’t ask rulers to remind the people to pray, as Francis did, we can ask them to enact policies that uphold human dignity and foster the common good, which creates the conditions for people and communities to flourish.
Servants, not masters
For lawmakers, the words of St. Francis are a reminder that they are servants. Servants of the people, but ultimately, servants of God. In a world that is so politically divided and divisive, St. Francis urges lawmakers to remember that ultimate power belongs to God and God alone.
Ultimately, lawmakers and citizens alike can take St. Francis’ words as a challenge to regain a healthy fear of the Lord. St. Francis does not want those in power to forget that while God is a God of perfect love, he is also a God of perfect justice. Pope Francis describes fear of the Lord as “a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur,” an awareness that reminds us that we are “held accountable to the Just Judge.”
Fear of the Lord convicts and pierces our hearts for what is right, because we know of God’s greatness and power as King. As we deal with legislative issues, let us be convicted to think and act with the mind and heart of God. And then, when prudent, offer yourself as a servant to the servants — providing counsel, prayer and opportunities to deepen their knowledge of and relationship with the broader community so that they may act for the common good.
Rachel Herbeck is policy and outreach coordinator for the Minnesota Catholic Conference.