Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Saint Francis of Assisi and His Prayer

 

 

 

 

                                                              Saint Francis of Assisi and His Prayer

 

With all the wars, disasters, economic crises and political infighting that we see around us these days, we all need a beautiful source of inspiration and love in our lives. So let me introduce you to this man, born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone,  informally named Francisco or Francis 780 years ago, who continues to influence and inspire us throughout the many centuries since his death at age 44 in 1226.  I want to introduce you to the Prayer of Saint Francis whose words you can read at the end of this article.  As you read the words, hold them in your heart, and listen to them in the many songs and hymns now recorded.  You may want to even capture the best of them for yourself. ITunes contains numerous renditions of this short song. I picked out 11 to fit on a CD to play for myself and others. So take all these words into your heart and play the beautiful music.  Then let me tell you more about this incredible man, his life and legacy.

 

Francis was born to a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi. As with so many wealthy young men, Francis early life was anything but exemplary: carefree, pleasure loving, carousing and sporting with his friends, enjoying his riches and bright clothing, even going off to war as was common at the time. Unfortunately his trip to war was not the success he probably imagined and he ended up being imprisoned for a year.  This imprisonment was later followed by a serious illness, and a series of visions and experiences began to reshape his life dramatically.  One day, selling cloth and velvet in the marketplace for his father, Francis unexpectedly was moved by a beggar asking for alms.  Francis followed this man and gave him everything he had in his pockets, even though his friends mocked him and his father scolded him in rage. At this point in time Francis abandoned his carefree life, spending time by himself, asking God for spiritual enlightenment, nursing lepers and joining the poor begging at the doors of churches. Francis began having mystical visions of Christ inspiring his new devotion. When his father began threatening and beating him, Francis denounced his father, laying aside even the garments he had received. He then adopted rough garments, barefoot, began to preach repentance and “to follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps.”  He was joined by others and within a year had eleven followers with the third a 19 year old young man, a simple farmer, who spent the rest of his life preaching with St. Francis. This young man is now known as Blessed Giles of Assisi and wrote the original words which have now evolved as the Prayer of Saint Francis.

 

Devotion to the life of Jesus Christ and mystical visions followed Francis.  Petitioning the Pope to recognize the new Franciscan order, the Pope initially had his doubts but was persuaded following a dream endorsing Francis supporting the Basilica which was the home church of Rome. The Franciscan Order was originally founded in 1210, known as the Lesser Brothers, who preached on the streets and had no possessions of their own.  Please note the interesting fact that these early stories of inspired men rarely involve women except as mothers. Now let me tell you about a wonderful story of a young woman now known as Saint Clare of Assisi. As a child she was devoted to prayer and then at age 18 to Francis after hearing him preach.  Leaving her home and her father enraged, she cut her hair and abandoned her rich lifestyle for a simple life of poverty, prayer and seclusion from the world. Clare was joined by her mother and two sisters to live in seclusion in this new order which is now known as Poor Clares.  In 1224 when an army came to plunder Assisi, “Clare went out to meet them with the Blessed Sacred in her hands.  Suddenly a mysterious terror seized the enemies, who fled without harming anybody in the city.”

 

Francis spent years traveling around the area “determined to bring the Gospel to all God’s creatures” even traveling to Egypt during the Fifth Crusade where Francis was allowed to preach to the Saracens. Unlike most Crusaders, Francis was well received and the Franciscan Order has been present in their Holy Land since 1217.  Francis also spent time organizing the order across Europe which in 1223 was officially endorsed by the Pope calling upon the Friars to “live in obedience without anything of our own and in chastity.”  Francis was also well known for his love of nature, living to imitate and carry out the words of Christ. Francis believed that nature was the mirror of God, calling all creatures his brothers and sisters. He was known to preach the duty of all mankind and animals to praise God.  Francis, while traveling with companions, was observed to stop in a place in the road where birds filled the trees around them. He was reported to ask his companions to wait for him while he went to talk with his sisters the birds. The birds were observed to surround him without flying away as he preached to them. You may have seen this picture of St. Francis.  Francis was also the first to celebrate Christmas with the nativity scene, in his case using living animals to create a natural version of this blessed event.

 

Two years before Francis death, Brother Leo reported that he saw Francis receiving the stigmata with a vision of a seraph, six winged Angel on a cross, giving him the gift of the five wounds of Christ.  Francis’ final years were spent suffering from the stigmata and other wounds. During the last day of his life he dictated his spiritual testament, then asked for Psalm 142 as his last words.

 

An incredible amount of information, publications, books and movies have been devoted to St. Francis and his influence upon our lives. I would like to relate one story which impressed me considerably as I studied the life and work of Wayne Dyer. (See also my article previously published in the Chatham County Line last December 2015 which can be found http://www.bettyphillipspsychology.com/id236.htmlhttp: on my website.) Toward the end of his life Dr. Dyer led groups to sacred places across the world including Assisi. During this trip he was encumbered by his own leg and hip problems. He led a group of individuals including a handicapped man with steel braces up winding narrow steps as they climbed Francis’ tower. When the man became stuck and unable to climb, Wayne found himself with incredible strength, picking up the man, carrying him to the top, then discovering his own leg problems had healed as he assisted this man. Another miracle!

 

Remarkably, when the newest Pope was selected he abandoned his name of Jorge Mario Bergogliio to take the name of the blessed Francis as his new name as Pope.  According to news reports from that day in 2013, he chose to emulate “St. Francis of Assisi, the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.”

 

Let’s return to the beautiful song and peace prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.  The purpose of St. Francis’ life must be similar to the purpose of our earthly lives as we prepare to return to eternal life: “unconditional love and forgiveness.” In this prayer and song and throughout our life’s work we can receive:  love, pardon, faith, hope, light, joy, consolation and understanding, peace, giving to others and finally our reward as we return to eternal life. On the earth our days may be full of rain or sun, laughter or tragedy, boredom or excitement, beautiful music or quiet meditation, all the highs and lows we encounter here which exist in preparation for the finale.

 

Here are the words to Saint Francis song and prayer. “Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring you love. Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord. And where there is doubt, true faith in you. Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is despair in life, let me bring hope. Where there is darkness, only light, and where there’s sadness, ever joy. Oh, Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console. To be understood as to understand. To be loved as to love with all my soul. Make me a channel of your peace. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. In giving of ourselves that we receive, And in dying that we are born to eternal life.”