Tuesday, October 4, 2011

St. Francis of Assisi and a lesson about prayer

Painting: St. Francis of Assis consoled by Angels | Badalocchio, Sisto (1581/85 - c. 1647)

On this, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi let us suspend for a moment thoughts about his interesting relationship with animals and learn from him, something about prayer and devotion.

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Many in our secular society cannot imagine why a man or a woman would enter consecrated life.  It's even more unthinkable that they would enter a cloister or monastery with little or no chance of leaving their dwelling once they walk through the doors. 

Many Catholics today cannot understand this concept of being locked away in prayer.  They wonder what purpose it serves.  They think that such people could be contributing something greater to society by helping the poor, for example.  Through a worldly lens, a cloister makes no sense; however, through the lens of faith in God, it makes perfect sense.  Any bishop worth his salt, would want such a prayer powerhouse in his diocese, and the people would do well to provide them with support.

But prayer - even contemplative prayer, is not something meant only for a cloister or monastery.  People complained about how much time Mother Teresa spent in prayer, yet she probably did more to meet the corporal and spiritual needs of the poorest of the poor in a month than many do in a lifetime. She said,

"Jesus made Himself the bread of life to give us life. That's where we begin the day, with Mass. And we end the day with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I don't think that I could do this work for even one week if I didn't have four hours of prayer every day."

People often think of the prayer as the time when we ask God for something.  We call this the prayer of petition.  However, few consider the prayer of adoration, where we love God with our being, adoring him, strictly for His sake. A small child will often express love for a parent spontaneously with a hug, or for an extended period of time, just content to snuggle.  For those of you who are parents, you know how delightful this is, especially when the child looks for nothing, but wants only to express love for you.  This is pure because it seeks nothing.

Reparation is a word which is rarely heard today.  It needs to be taught.  Learning what the Church teaches about reparation motivates us to make prayers and acts of reparation.  Before I share a story about St. Francis and prayer, I want to offer this explanation from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

We are restored to grace through the merits of Christ's Death, and that grace enables us to add our prayers, labours, and trials to those of Our Lord "and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ" (Colossians 1:24). We can thus make some sort of reparation to the justice of God for our own offences against Him, and by virtue of the Communion of the Saints, the oneness and solidarity of the mystical Body of Christ, we can also make satisfaction and reparation for the sins of others.

St. Francis loved to suffer because he understood the redemptive qualities it could have when prayers and sacrifices were humbly offered with this intention. 

This story I am sharing comes from the Omnibus of the Sources for the Life of St. Francis, which is a collection of the most famous works by, and on, St. Francis, now bound in two volumes.  It comes specifically from the Legend of Perugia, No. 71.  While he is speaking about the religious brothers here, some of what he says applies to anyone, lay or religious.   Read carefully, emphasis mine in bold:

Eloquence and Prayer

(71) He also said: "There are many brothers who day and night put all their energy and all their attention into the pursuit of knowledge, thereby abandoning prayer and their holy vocation.  And when they have preached to a few men or to the people, and learn that certain ones were edified or converted to penance through their discourse, they are puffed up and pride themselves on the results and work of others.  For, those whom they think they edified or converted to penance by their discourse were actually edified or converted by God through the prayers of the holy brothers who are completely ignorant of it; God wishes it this way for fear it should be grounds for pride for them.  Behold my Knights of the Round Table: the brothers who hide in abandoned and secluded places to devote themselves with more fervor to prayer and meditation, to weep over their sins and those of others. Their holiness is known to God, but most often unknown to the brothers and to men.  When their souls will be presented to the Lord by the angels, the Lord will reveal the effect and reward of their labors, that is to say, the host of souls saved by their prayrs.  And he will say to them: 'My sons, see the souls saved by  your prayers; since you were faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater.'"

I think there is much to reflect on here, especially with how we approach our chosen apostolates.  While some can put too much into pursuing knowledge, to the near exclusion of prayer and silence before the Lord, we can also do the same with our "activism".  No matter how noble the cause, the saints have shown us our human efforts are no match for what it takes to really save souls. It all must be coupled with prayer. 

St. Francis of Assisi also had a great devotion to the holy angels. From the same "omnibus" (Celano, Second Life):

(197) Francis venerated with a very great affection the angels who are with us in our struggle and who walk in the midst of the shadow of death with us.  Such companions who were everywhere with us, he used to say, are to be venerated, such are to be invoked as our guardians.  He used to teach that their presence must not be offended, and that we must not presume to do before them what we would not do before men.

I leave you with Andrea Bocelli singing for the Holy Father... Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!
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