I think we (I) have a complicated relationship with Saint Francis.
Francis was born in 1182, and from his young adulthood through the end of his life, he proclaimed that folks should renounce worldly possessions, live a life of poverty, and spend their time serving the poor. He founded a whole monstatic order on the concept, and even during his own lifetime, his own friars found his rule of life too difficult to model life upon.
And yet, somehow, we remember him as this nice monk who preached to birds, so we can celebrate him when we bless our pets. See, it’s complicated.
Into this complicated situation, we add another layer: attributing a prayer to Francis that feels like it speaks directly to us today.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we 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,
—A Prayer attributed to Saint Francis
This prayer is “attributed” to Saint Francis because we don’t have any definite proof that he wrote it. This prayer first appeared in the early 1900’s, and was perhaps attributed to Francis in the 1930’s to give it some spiritual strength. Honestly, I like that it’s attributed to Francis, because it’s a beautifully complicated prayer, and that feels fitting to me for Francis.
In this prayer, we pray that God will use us as instruments. To bring peace where there is strife. To bring light where there is darkness. To bring union out of discord, and hope where there is despair. It is HARD to offer light when standing in darkness, or broker union in a situation full of discord. These are complicated tasks (Francis had some experience of them, too). And yet, we pray this prayer because, as people of faith, we feel called by God to offer faith, hope, and love.
Where do we see the opportunity for God’s love to shine into our complicated situations? Where can we offer love, pardon, union, faith, hope, light, and joy?
Or, where can we offer consolation, understanding, and love? We know these are hard, at times complicated things to offer, and yet, our world needs them now, today, more than ever!
One final complicated thing is how the prayer ends: “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.” We do not know what eternal life will look or feel like. And, I really love how the prayer sets up an if/then statement for us. If we give, then we are able to receive, and if we pardon, we are able to pardon. I have found both of these to be true in my own life. When I think of a recent experience pardoning/forgiving someone for a wrong they had done to me, then I was able to hear from them the way I also hurt them, and they were willing to forgive me too.
It’s complicated. And, complicated doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. If we give, then we are able to receive. If we pardon, we are able to be pardoned. And, because I know from my own experience the first two are true, then I have faith to believe that in dying, we are born to eternal life. Francis has taught me to see beauty in the complicated parts of life, and I pray, we all can see God in these complicated times.
Thank you, Lord, for Francis, and for all the holy complications that help us learn how to be your instruments in our world.