Editor’s note: We commemorate the August 2 feast day of St. Peter Faber with Faber Fridays this month, inspired by Jon M. Sweeney’s book, Peter Faber: A Saint for Turbulent Times.
St. Peter Faber, companion of St. Ignatius Loyola and co-founder of the Jesuit order, is marked by the consistent description of gentle. It is an adjective I am drawn to, especially in a world that seems anything but gentle. Harsh, critical, and unkind are the words that close in on me these days. So St. Peter Faber sounds like just the saint I’d like to meet.
Faber was born in 1506 in the territory of Savoy, which is now nestled where France, Italy, and Switzerland all meet. He was a shepherd, tending to his father’s flock. The family was poor, and Faber ached to learn. He was able to persuade his parents to send him to school six miles away (Sweeney, 10), where he learned quickly. Eventually he attended the University of Paris, where he met Francis Xavier and Ignatius Loyola, and they pledged their friendship to each other and their lives and souls to Jesus.
But it is Faber’s gentleness that I return to. It may have begun in his early life when he spent hours, perhaps days, outside with the sheep, just as King David had. Solitude brews a quiet attention to the holy. As he tended to his sheep, he could no doubt recall all the references to sheep in Scripture. It was in those fields where his faith first blossomed and took root. He was said to have a simple faith with a great love for Mary.
I’ve traveled through what was Savoy on train. The landscape is so breathtakingly magnificent, I could think only of God and his glory as we passed though. Each snow-capped mountain, billowing cloud, and lake the shade of blue I had never seen before brought tears to my eyes. I watched the landscape pass by the windows of the train, wishing I could stop and breath it in.
Did this gentle landscape seep into Faber’s soul? He carried this gentleness in friendship with Francis and Ignatius and others. There are over 150 letters that survive (John W. Padberg, “The Gentle, Grace-Filled Life of Peter Faber”), marked with a sense of tenderness. Faber’s friendships were not self-centered but sought the good of the other.
During the Reformation, Faber worked with Protestants, seeking to understand and foster unity. His work was diplomatic, marked by openness and charity. “Take care, take care, never to close your heart to anyone,” he said. I long for this model of kindness, open to dialogue and unity in a world that is so divided.
Faber’s humility and desire to bring glory to God ring through his tender prayer:
I beg of you, my Lord,
to remove anything that separates
me from you, and you from me.
Remove anything that makes me unworthy
of your sight, your control, your reprehension;
of your speech and conversation,
of your benevolence and love.
Take from me every evil
that stands in the way of my seeing you,
hearing, tasting, savoring, and touching you;
fearing and being mindful of you;
knowing, trusting, loving, and possessing you;
being conscious of your presence
and, as far as may be, enjoying you.
This is what I ask for myself
and earnestly desire from you.
Amen. (Sweeney, 143)