This is one of my favorite weeks of the year because we celebrate the lives of two most extraordinary leaders. October 2 is Gandhi Jayanti, the birthday of Mahatma (“great soul”) Gandhi. And October 4 is the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi.
The two men have much in common. Both had a powerful experience that launched them on their unique life paths. For Gandhi, being thrown off a train in South Africa inspired him to devote himself to resisting injustice and inequality. In the case of Saint Francis, a crucifix spoke to him, saying, “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which is in ruins.”
Each man embodied a fundamental principle of leadership: GREAT LEADERS ARE ALWAYS GREAT SERVANTS. This is why I consider both to be the ultimate role models. Neither ever asked anyone to do anything that they had not already done themselves. Both gave their lives in service of the poor and downtrodden.
Perhaps most importantly, they were guided by the same powerful idea. In his magnificent “Canticle of the Sun” (shown below), Saint Francis sang of the sanctity of all creation. Gandhi named his nonviolence movement satyagraha, a Sanskrit term meaning “the force of truth.” And what is that truth to which Gandhi dedicated his life? It is that one unitary consciousness permeates everything, without exception.
Gandhi had no enemies—only adversaries. He had the deep conviction that we are all one. This truth holds even for those who mistreat, exploit, and abuse others. Such individuals have yet to learn the true nature of the universe. Satyagraha was not about defeating human beings but rather about overcoming ignorance.
Saint Francis took to heart the idea that “the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” To enter into that Kingdom, he maintained, requires poverty, simplicity, and purity. Saint Francis lived in accordance with that ideal and never strayed from it.
Both Gandhi and Saint Francis walked their talk as much as any human being ever could. How inspiring is that? I celebrate both men every day of the year, but even more so this first week of October. We are blessed that such exceptional role models ever walked this Earth!
Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.