4 October 2020
The Gift of Saint Francis of Assisi
The Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi is one of the most renowned and spiritually inspiring of all prayers that date back to the earlier centuries of Christianity. One need not be a Christian to utter, and sense, the sublime power of these words ascribed to Saint Francis. That man of tender yet passionate piety established in 1205 the Society of Saint Francis, which consists of the Third Orders of the Friar Minor, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the lay Third Order. Those groups became the Society of Saint Francis.
In the beliefs and words of Francis of Assisi, we find the initial stirrings of what would be deemed Renaissance thought: man is not the passive recipient of Divine Wisdom, but can be an agent of change. In every man can be found the spark of celestial transformation, the faith that can move mountains. It was the humanity, as much as the divinity, of Jesus Christ to which this friar devoted himself in a form of spirituality that expressed concepts more Renaissance than medieval in nature.
Although this supplication of Francis of Assisi is considered ancient, it is, in literary terms, only about a century old. It first appeared, en français, in a French publication in 1912; and was later printed in 1916 in Italian in an edition of the newspaper of the Vatican City, L’Osseratore Romano. The prayer was translated into English in 1927.
That Italian publication was the brainchild of Pope Benedict XV, a man of God who toiled to engender peace amidst the gory turmoils of World War I. He envisioned this prayer as a potent tool for peace, a beneficent weapon to end the Great War that was tearing Europe apart. Twenty years later, this Prayer of Saint Francis was publicized in America as a spiritual plea for peace throughout the laity of the Catholic Church. This pacifist and isolationist nation had just gone to war against the evils, and the evil-doers, of Nazism and Fascism. During that global fight for liberty among free men and free women, this prayer for divine understanding and noble inspiration became a poetic request for peace.
This eloquent but simple prayer was not discovered among the known writings of Francis of Assisi, the ardently faithful friar who would become a saint. A century after its initial public publication in 1912, this entreaty is still known only by this title: The Prayer of Saint Francis.
Francis of Assisi had written: “I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, he can work through anyone.”
It was his love of life that led this man to a love of God consecrated to solitude and to prayer, the means by which he sought to know the will of God, especially concerning his own life. At that time, the concept of being used by God as instrument of His will was somewhat revolutionary in doctrinal thought. The pleas in this prayer are clearly, yet profoundly, stated with the sincerity of a man who knew himself, and who hungered to know his Maker with purity of piety as experienced on earth.
St. Francis of Assisi espoused the belief that a person can find the Divine Spirit in humility, love, joy, and through the selfless service to others. The face of God can be seen in the face of any man or woman, and in the blessed animals who are also the creations of the Lord. The renunciation of worldly goods, chastity, and tranquil obedience to the will of God form pathways to the fount of Amazing Grace. Among the ebbs and flows of our earthly existence can be traced the lines of love that create the eternal bond between man and his Maker.
The Prayer of St. Francis encapsulates the essential goodness of this man, even as he implores his Divine Master to guide him with any goodness he might possess. The timeless quality of these humble requests, line by line, can lead the mortal soul away from the darkness of a world that seems filled with ruthless hatred and blind folly, a world wherein a man attempts to understand all that he cannot understand. During those quiet moments of selflessness, he surrenders his will to the Will of God.
Such a surrender is sublime, a gift from God and to God. It is a gift that forever grants solace to the soul who has somehow discovered the wondrous courage to renounce her own needs, and to ask, purely and simply, the Heavens above for small miracles, here on Earth.
The Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.