could simply say that Francis prayer life was, "My God and my all!"
and stop at that. Everything that can be stated about prayer in the
life of St. Francis of Assisi is expressed in those four little words.
While the truth is contained in that brief and holy phrase, the way
in which Francis reached that apex of prayer needs exploration.
The Canticle of Brother Sun
In searching Francis' journey
in prayer, we discover our own way to believing and living "My
God and my all!" There are many significant markers in Francis'
prayer life, but among them shines the Canticle.
The Canticle sings in simple words
of praise all that Francis discovered of the glory and goodness
of God. All he learned through visions in his early conversion,
from the words from the crucifix of San Damiano, his pummeling
of God in prayer in the caves, his experiences of the brotherhood
of lesser brothers, his own illness and approaching death--all
is distilled to praise.
Each path Francis took on his journey
to God led him to a single action: praise of God. Through the
entire domain of earth, from the glory of daybreak to nightfall's
softened light, Francis praises the Lord. Through all weather,
the elements of fire and water and the motherhood of the earth,
Francis continues in praise. Sickness and trial give birth to
continuing praise. The inevitable encounter with Sister Death
spurs Francis to close his work with praise, blessing and thanksgiving.
Everything that happened in Francis' life fueled the fire
of his praise to the Lord.
Francis leaves us with a legacy of
praise. If we claim it as our heritage, we must use it as Francis
did--in every circumstance of life without reservation.
"But," we think, "I can't praise God
for my father's Alzheimer's disease. How can I praise
God for joblessness? For debilitating illness? For the pain and
grief that thunder through my life?"
Francis, like the Lord he followed,
teaches us to praise God through the trials that enter every life.
Only then can we experience release from the bonds of anguish
and despair. If we release our deepest emotions to God, we defuse
their power to create havoc in our lives.
As she slipped and fell next to her
car on an icy January morning, Aileen said aloud, "Praise
the Lord!" The woman stepping from the next car was surprised
by the elderly woman's words at a time that did not seem
praiseworthy to her. As they sought care for the resulting broken
arm, Aileen shared her view of praise. "If I hadn't
praised God, I would probably have chastised myself for being
so clumsy. Or I might have criticized the store management for
not tending the parking lot better. I'm sure I would have
felt more pain because I would have been angry and focused on
myself. Praise somehow sets things right with God and with me."
Praise works! We may never understand
in this life how, but it does work wonders.
Francis shows us the way to praise.
If his way seems impossible, consider this story. Before my mother
and I visited Assisi we discussed the places we would see. I commented,
"There is one thing we will not do--climb to the
top of Mount Subasio." Though plucky and a great walker,
my mom was in her mid-70's.
After checking into the guest house,
we began to explore the town that is grafted to the side of the
mountain. Winding streets, meandering stairways and paths transform
walking tours into adventures. We found a path that looked interesting
and ventured along it. As it gently wound upward, we realized
it had no byways or side roads. Foliage obscured the view up and
the view down. Finally at a bend the view from the path broke
open. Where were we? Nearly at the top of Mount Subasio, of course!
It had seemed too difficult when we
contemplated climbing to the top. But done in blind faith that
we were going somewhere, it was an easily accomplished task. And
we praised God for the journey.
Learning to praise God through all
the events with which life confronts us may seem like an impossible
task. In reality, all we have to do is begin to follow the path
of praise. God will lead us on.
This article is excerpted from "Prayer,"
Chapter Nine of Following Francis of Assisi: A Spirituality
for Daily Living, by Patti Normile. St. Anthony Messenger
Press, 1996, $7.95.
Most high, all-powerful, all good, Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor
And all blessing.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy
To pronounce your name.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made,
And first my lord Brother Sun,
Who brings the day; and light you give to us through him.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars;
In the heavens you have made them, bright
And precious and fair.
All praise be yours, My Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all the weather's moods,
By which you cherish all that you have made.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, lowly, precious and pure.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
Through whom you brighten up the night.
How beautiful is he, how gay! Full of power and strength.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
Who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces
Various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through those who grant pardon
For love of you; through those who endure
Sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace,
By you, Most High, they will be crowned.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those She finds doing your will!
The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks,
And serve him with great humility.
Translation by Benen Fahy, O.F.M., from St. Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies, edited by Marion A. Habig, copyright 1973, Franciscan Herald Press, and reprinted with permission of the publisher.
Patti Normile is a Secular
Franciscan. A former teacher, youth retreat director and hospital
chaplain, she is the author of
Visiting the Sick: A Guide for Parish Ministers and
Prayers for Caregivers, also published by St. Anthony