as Gaeilge Po polsku

Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me
true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out
Your holy and true command.

St Francis

Praying with St. Francis

For St. Francis, as with St. Clare, their primary concern at prayer, as in all of life, was the "Spirit of the Lord and His holy manner of working". This was the guiding force in their lives. So, if you were to ask St. Francis about prayer methods, he would probably recommend that you follow the leading of the Spirit and pick the one in the index to which you feel drawn! The Spirit leads each one in a different manner, and so he prayed to the Spirit to show him what he must do. When his first companion joined him, they went off to pray together, to see what the Lord wanted his companion to do - he did not assume that they would be led in the same direction. And so, while we have many examples of prayers which St. Francis composed and used (and we will just look at a few below), for him the important thing was to tune into the Spirit and to allow himself to be led in prayer. We outline a few examples of his prayers, but ask you to bear in mind that they can be applied in different ways and will speak to each individual soul in a unique way. That is the freedom and beauty of Franciscan prayer.

We give three methods of praying with St. Francis, as follows:

Method 1 : My God and my All.

Once, before St. Francis had any companions, he was invited to stay the night with Bernard of Quintavalle, a wealthy nobleman, who wanted to see if the man who was generating so much interest in Assisi, was genuine. They spent a lot of the night in conversation and then, Bernard invited him to stay the night. He had planned this, so that he could watch what Francis would do during the night. When bedtime came, they retired. Bernard pretended to be asleep and began snoring. After a while, Francis arose and fell on his knees to pray. He spent the entire night in prayer, repeating over and over again "My God and My All". Bernard observed him and was overcome. He resolved to follow Francis the following day, and give all his wealth to the poor.

The author of the Fioretti (the Little Flowers of St. Francis), who related this story, tells us that Francis was made aware of what the Lord was going to do through him and about the Order that would be formed. He was overcome, becoming fully aware of his weakness and his inability. He knew he was incapable of doing it and would have to rely totally on Godís power, and so he claimed this power, by saying to God, "My God and my All". It brings to mind the words that God spoke to St. Paul, "My grace is enough for you. My great strength is revealed in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9)

All of us can relate to this feeling - seeing what lies ahead (in as much as we can see what lies ahead) and feeling swamped by the magnitude of the task. In situations like this, it is powerful to pray in this way, because we show we trust Him. It is glorifying God, and at the same time, imploring His help as "our All".

This type of prayer, is similar to what is outlined in the section on "Using scripture as a mantra", that is, picking a phrase which will bring you into the presence of God and enable you to pray without ceasing. For Francis, however, it was more than just a prayer word. This prayer reflects his whole attitude towards God. It is a prayer that is full of awe, as He contemplates God. The more he matured, the more he began to comprehend that God was GOD, the Almighty Creator of the whole universe. And yet, he had the freedom to realize that, though he was an insignificant creature, he was important to God, and, the more he realized that, the more he marvelled at who God really was. When he added, "My All", it shows that he realized that all was gift, and that, while indeed God was his All, it was because it had been given to him by God to enter into this relationship, and so it is a prayer that is characterized by gratitude.

It is also a deeply contemplative prayer, because it goes beyond the thoughts of the intellect and revels in the wonder of who God is. And, as Francis went on, it would have become simpler all the time, as words became superfluous. He said less and less, reducing it to "My God" and eventually ending up in a wordless, silent prayer of adoration of the heart.

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Method 2: Prayer from the "Letter to the entire Order"

Almighty, eternal, just and merciful God
give us miserable ones
the grace to do for You alone
what we know You want us to do
and always to desire what pleases You.
Inwardly cleansed,
Interiorly enlightened
and inflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit,
May we be able to follow
in the footprints of Your beloved Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
and, by Your grace alone,
may we make our way to You,
Most High,
Who live and rule
in perfect Trinity and simple Unity,
and are glorified
God almighty,
forever and ever.

This prayer is given at the end of the Letter to the Entire Order, which was written by St. Francis. This is not a prayer that needs much explanation - it is anointed and simply works on your soul. If one could take five to ten minutes a day, to slow down, relax and pray this prayer from the heart, one would certainly grow in serenity, because it is food for the soul. In the typical style of St. Francis, it begins with praise of God and ends in the same way. The centre of it is given entirely to trying to have the Will of God accomplished in oneís life, which is why, if it is prayed from the heart, it brings inner peace, because, as we have often heard, "In your will is our peace". Francis can never seem to find enough words with which to praise God, and this prayer is no exception. He starts off in awe of God, in contrast with Whom, he is conscious of how miserable he is in comparison.However, when he writes like this, it is not putting himself or others down, as if we have no value. He is supremely aware that we are the children of God, Who is our loving Father. And it is precisely this divine condescension, which emphasizes for him the greatness of God, while also emphasising our nothingness. But, the realisation that he is a child of God, makes him bold enough to continue, and so begins his petitions, all centred on Godís Will for his life. He first of all asks for the grace for this to happen, realizing that it is impossible without the help of the Spirit. Once he has done that, there are three classic movements, one following another.
  • Inwardly cleansed: Firstly, he wants to be inwardly cleansed. We are all in need of inner cleansing. We have an innate capacity for God, but, fallen as we are, we fill it with other things. So, this is the first thing that needs to happen. Of course, we need to cooperate with this process, but it is primarily a work of the Spirit.
  • Interiorly enlightened: Once the cleansing has taken place, we can be enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit. When this happens, we begin to be aware of His inspirations in our hearts, and we are given the grace to respond in love.
  • Inflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit: This ultimately leads to a transformation within us, whereby we become consumed by the Holy Spiritís love and are able, as St. Clare would put it, to contain Him who cannot be contained by all of creation, because our soul becomes a faithful dwelling for Him.

These movements enable us to strengthen our "inner selves". This is reminiscent of the passage in Ephesians (chapter 3:10-20), where St. Paul prays that, by the working of the Holy Spirit, his readers may be strengthened in their "inner selves". This strengthening is necessary in order that they may be strong enough for Christ to dwell in their hearts through faith, and thus be able to experience and know the love of Christ, which of course, is beyond all knowledge. This is what Francis is seeking in this prayer, in order that, he may follow in Christís footprints. In other words, he returns to the central importance that the Will of God be accomplished in his life. In this manner he makes his way to that which is our final end, the Trinity. And so, as with St. Paul, after such an elevated prayer, he can only end in praise of the power and grace of God, which can accomplish this within us.

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Method 3 : Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

Thomas of Celano (1 Cel. 45), the first biographer of St. Francis, records that some of the brothers begged him to teach them how to pray. He urged them to pray the "Our Father" and the following prayer:

"We adore You, Lord Jesus Christ,
in all Your churches throughout the whole world
and we bless You
because by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world"

It is a prayer that was very dear to his heart. He tells us in his Testament, which was written near the end of his life, that the Lord gave him such faith in churches that he would, with simplicity, pray this prayer; because of the presence within them of the Blessed Sacrament. We are told by his biographer, that Francis burned with a love that came from his whole being for the sacrament of the Lordís Body, and he was carried away with wonder at the love that was shown to humanity there. It was also because of his great love for the Eucharist, that he had great reverence for priests.

He was in great awe of the Lord for giving Himself to us in this way. In his First Admonition (i.e. the instructions which he gave his followers), he says: "Every day he humbles himself just as he did when he came from his heavenly throne into the Virginís womb; every day he comes to us and lets us see him in abjection, when he descends from the bosom of the Father into the hands of the priest at the altar. He shows himself to us in this sacred bread just as he once appeared to his apostles in real flesh. With their own eyes they saw only his flesh, but they believed that he was God, because they contemplated him with the eyes of the spirit. We, too, with our eyes, see only bread and wine, but we must see further and firmly believe that this is his most holy Body and Blood, living and true."

This shows the faith he had in the Holy Eucharist. The practice of Exposition of the Eucharist for Adoration, had not begun in the time of Francis - it was actually a later development. However, it is quite clear that Francis had the spirit of this powerful type of prayer, in that he bowed down in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in churches, where it was reserved. And indeed, when his biographer tells us that Francis gave his followers this prayer, he goes on to say, that following his example, they bowed down, inwardly and outwardly whenever they saw a church (even in the distance), not to mention when they actually entered churches.

It was from his frequent reception of the Eucharist, that he received all his strength to live his life of love, and he imitated what he received, offering himself up in union with the Lord. It is from the Eucharist that we too receive the strength and nourishment that we need for our daily living in faith. We are blessed that, in our times, the practice of Eucharistic Adoration has become much more widespread. To spend some quiet time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, forming a personal relationship with the living Lord, is a wonderful way to imbibe His peaceful presence, and is a great antidote to the stressful lives that so many of us live nowadays. It is not necessary that the Blessed Sacrament be exposed for veneration - the Lord is truly sacramentally present in the tabernacle in His churches and this beautiful prayer can help us come into contact with Him. And indeed, many of the other prayer forms that we have suggested are very appropriate for prayer in Churches, in company with the Lord of life.

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