We 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 Saint 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.
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.
The Canticle of Brother Sun
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.