The priceless gift of any story lies in its power to spark a fire in our imagination. Through stories we learn that heartbreak and joy, grief and love, sacrifice and courage, and despair and hope are not tied to any time or any culture. Stories remind us how timeless and universal is the search to find peace and freedom, to live with love and courage and to have hope and be free.
One such story is that of St. Francis and the sultan. In 1219 during the fifth Crusade, Francis journeyed to Syria, looking to speak with the Muslim people about Christianity. Before he reached the sultan, Francis was captured by soldiers and insulted and beaten, but he remained calm and hopeful. Although he was abused by many with a hostile spirit, the sultan graciously received him. While the sultan listened willingly and at length to Francis’ sermons about a faith he found strange, he remained unconvinced and did not convert. When Francis had given up on him, the sultan saw him safely back to the brothers.
I am always moved by the story of Francis and the sultan because Francis’ example of profound hope is one that each of us has the power to sense in ourselves. Francis exhibited great calm amid chaos, he greeted conflict and derision with forgiveness and he expressed hope and faith in the midst of skepticism and cynicism.
Great courage, faith and hope are not preordained gifts possessed by only saintly or special people. The heart of love, forgiveness, grace and hope lies within each of us.
Although we may never be called to travel to foreign lands to spread the Good News of our God like Francis, we will find visible expressions in our lives of the truths we have come to understand. Our every thought, word or action holds the possibility of being a living expression of love and hope.