Thursday, October 23rd, 2008
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace . . .”
St. Francis of Assisi is often remembered for his “Peace Prayer.” The desires he expressed therein, which he also modeled by his way of life, have become the guiding principles of peace movements around the world. Even St. Francis’ hometown has become associated with the struggle for peace. Within the past few decades, for example, two major interreligious conferences have gathered there, each led by a pope, protesting the use of religious faith as a pretext for war. Compared to his hometown, however, the poverello himself remains the principal symbol nonviolence and fraternity. Peace and prayer gardens abound worldwide that contain some image of St. Francis. (His statue is often put in birdbaths, too, though arguably for different reasons.)
Considering St. Francis’ reputation as a man of peace, one might find it surprising that several of his sons stand out in history because of their military prowess. It’s true. A few Franciscans are remembered in Europe as military heroes.
One of these fighting Franciscans is Blessed Marco d’Aviano (1631-1699), who was beatified just a few years ago by Pope John Paul II. Bl. Marco, a Capuchin friar and the reputed inventor of cappuccino, served as the spiritual advisor to the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I. As papal legate to the imperial court, he helped unify the ‘Holy League’ armies of Austria, Poland, Venice, and the Papal States, which under the direction of King Jan Sobieski of Poland defeated the Ottoman Turks at the famous Battle of Vienna. Continuing in his role as a military advisor, Bl. Marco was instrumental in the later liberations of Buda and Belgrade.
Another of these military sons of St. Francis is St. John of Capistrano, whose feast we celebrate today.
In his early life, John became a lawyer and politician. His secular career, however, was short lived. Suffering imprisonment while brokering peace between two warring parties led John to consider the religious life. Having never consummated his marriage, John obtained a release from his vows and subsequently entered the Franciscan Order.
John studied theology under St. Bernadine of Siena and became a renowned preacher and reformer all over central Europe. The crowds that gathered to hear his preaching would often grew to tens of thousands of souls. John was also an indefatigable opponent of heresy. In his preaching he fought principally against the errors of the Hussites.
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Muslim armies began moving westward toward Vienna and Rome. Christian cities lying in their path fell under their domination. At the age of 70, John preached a crusade against the Muslim seige of Belgrade, and the soldiers who volunteered he personally led to victory. Together with the armies of John Hunyadi, John’s troops freed Belgrade from the Muslim threat.
Though he survived the fight, John contracted the plague while on the battlefield. He died three months later. John was canonized in 1724.
Lord, you raised up Saint John of Capistrano to give your people comfort in their trials. May your Church enjoy unending peace and be secure in your protection.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.