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Reflecting on the Prayer of St. Francis

October 4th is the feast day for St. Francis of Assisi.  He is one of the most popular saints and is known as the patron saint of animals.  So, it is a custom for some parishes to offer a pet blessing at this time of year.  We concluded our pet blessing this year by reciting the Prayer of St. Francis.  It might be a familiar prayer to you.  I offer it in its entirety here.

Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
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.
Amen.

Now, I would like to offer some line by line reflection on this prayer.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
In this, I do not ask the Lord to make me great.  I do not ask for anything selfish.  Instead, following Jesus’ example of emptying himself (Philippians 2:7), I ask God to use me (“instrument”) to accomplish his will.  I see this as following what Jesus says in Matthew 16:24, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” 

This is not easy.  It was not easy for Jesus when He prayed in the garden three times, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39 – see full passage at Matthew 26:36-46).  Lord, give me the strength to do Your Will.

(For a reflection on his peace, see my article “The Sign of Peace.”)

Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Someone has to be the first to love.  Hatred only breeds hatred.  Lord, please give me the strength to let go of any hatred I might have so that I might respond with love.  Help me to let go of the hatred to make room for the love You wish to fill my heart with.  (See a new initiative by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called CivilizeIt at www.civilizeit.org.)

Where there is injury, pardon
Lord, when I am hurt by the actions of others, it would be easy to hold onto the hurt and judge them.  That would be the same as holding onto hatred.  Love leads us to forgiveness.  Help me to be an instrument of reconciliation, handing my hurt over to you, as I seek the conversion of the one who has hurt me.  Help me to realize that forgiving them is not only good for them but that it is also necessary for me to make room for your love where the hurt dwells within me. 

Let us especially pray for those in prison to receive what they need to experience conversion to become good and loving members of society.

Where there is doubt, faith
When we think of doubt, we often think of St. Thomas the Apostle, sometimes called “Doubting Thomas” because he doubted the other Apostles when they told him they had seen the risen Jesus” (John 20:24-29).  He did not doubt Jesus.  He doubted what the other Apostles said because nothing like that had ever happened before and, thus, he couldn’t understand it.  When he saw the risen Jesus for himself, he immediately believed.

When one reads the Book of Job, one sees a strong faith by Job when he loses all his material goods as well as his family.  However, he begins to “doubt” why God allowed the terrible things that happened to him.  At the end, he realizes that he is only human so he can’t expect to understand everything.  He must simply trust God.  Lord, help me to have that same trust in you.

Where there is despair, hope
Despair is the utter loss of believing that something good will happen whereas hope is the expectation of something difficult to attain.  Despair is a human feeling when everything seems to be going badly.  Hope is based on faith in God.  If all we see is what happens in this world, we can despair in suffering.  However, in faith, seeing the suffering of Jesus on the Cross and knowing that it is followed by the Resurrection, we have hope, hope knowing God is with us in our suffering.

Where there is darkness, light
It is not for us to create the light we bring to the darkness.  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).  In Baptism we receive the Light of Christ.  We are called to let the Light of Christ that is within us shine in the darkness.

Where there is sadness, joy
There is sadness in this world.  Even Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.  Our faith does not ask us to deny that things that make us sad happen.  What our faith does do is call us to look beyond the sad things, look beyond death to see the joy of eternal life, life with God.  There is our joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
Lord, help me to move from being concerned only about myself to caring for others. 

To be consoled as to console
It is true there are times when we need consolation for things in our own lives.  We don’t feel we have it within us to console others without first receiving consolation ourselves.  Lord, when I feel like this, help me to remember the times when I offered consolation and/or advice to others and realized the words you gave me to say to them were exactly the words I needed to hear myself.  Thus, in consoling them, I received the consolation I needed.

To be understood as to understand
Lord, this is a difficult one for me.  I have often felt that it is hard for me to “get others” to understand my perspective.  Two things I ask for here.  First, please give me the words You want me to say for Your Will to be done.  Secondly, help me to always be sure and listen to them that I might understand their perspective.  Together, let us all come to do Your Will.

To be loved as to love
At times we struggle to feel loved.  Here I think of Mother Teresa and how it only came to be known after her death of the long periods she experienced without feeling your divine love.  Yet, she never stopped loving others.  Lord, help me to always love others, caring for them as she did.

For it is in giving that we receive
Lord, I seek the gift of your joy.  Help me to realize how I can receive that joy through giving to others.  Jesus gave his life that we might receive forgiveness.  Help me to give with a generous heart.  Then, I may know your generous love.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
Jesus taught us that if we wish to be forgiven, we must be willing to forgive others.  Lord, help me to sincerely pray the words in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life
What keeps us from experiencing life as God offers us?  Our attachment to the things of this world.  Lord, help me to “die” by letting go of worldly things that distract me from you.  Help me to hand my life over to you that I may know your eternal joy.

Amen.
Yes, I believe, I believe Lord that You love me.

2 Comments

  1. Carmella Owen says:

    Thank you for this article today, Fr Jeff. I did not know how much I needed it until I began reading. Both the prayer and your words are as beautiful as they are profound. God bless you always!

  2. Fr. Jeff says:

    God always leads us to what we need.

    Peace,

    Fr. Jeff

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