Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Prayer of St. Francis: An Examination


Why we call this “St. Francis’ Prayer” or “The Prayer of St. Francis” is not clear to me as the good saint was not the author. Perhaps the prayer came to be known as such due to the Franciscan-sounding principles. Regardless, this is a fine prayer (if a prayer could be called “fine”).

“Lord, make me an instrument”

This is actually the first of two petitions, the second begin later in the prayer: “O Divine Master, grant that I . . .” Such weighty words like Hamlet’s question that make us pause as we consider who we are and who we are not. He is the Lord, our Creator and Sovereign. He is the Divine Master, as we will see later in the prayer.

The Lord is Master and I am not. As we are born into this fallen state, we are not much use even to ourselves. The prayer begins by returning to the Creator that He make take what He has fashioned in our mother’s wombs and go a step further: make me more than I am. Make me fit for the Master’s use. “Instrument” here may conjure a wide range of mental pictures: musical (string, wind, percussive, etc); mechanical (machine or that which is used for maintenance); medicinal (optical, dental, surgical etc); scientific (laboratory, measuring, quantum, weather, etc) and etc. Whatever the form, and instrument is a tool, an apparatus or device used to accomplish a task. What is that task? The glory of He who wields it.

“Your Peace.”

Rightly used by God, peace is a facet of the gem of His glory. Peace means there is no enmity between God and men as well as between men. The first part of the prayer requests God to use me as the means by which He accomplishes His peace in others. The second part of the prayer (which we will see) requests God to achieve peace in self, with God as the object. “Full circle,” as they say.

“Let me sow”

May God fashion us in such a way that we drop seeds that bloom into spiritual fruit according to His purpose. We have a garden to tend, such is man’s mandate from the beginning. We would be a plow, turning under the weeds and preparing the ground of men’s souls to do what they should: glorify God as we live out the expectation of “imago dei.” We would also be the broadcaster of that which He gives us to give out in the world. The seeds we are to sow are love, pardon, faith, hope, light and joy.

Where are we to cast our seed but in the places where grows hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness. As before: the ground must be prepared then oversown then cultivated so those weeds grow not again. The fruit of God’s Spirit must give no place for the fruit of the flesh to prosper. “Peace on earth” begins with God as Lord and Divine Master.


This portion opens in the same position as the first: humble under the rule of the Lord, the Divine Master. The prayer here takes on uncommon characteristics because the request concerns the one who prays but for one’s neighbor first.  What does one want but that God should use “me” to be the giver of consolation, understanding, love and pardoning? As one is the vessel of these graces, may one also be the recipient of them through the obedience of someone else who places themselves in the same place of humble service. There is a balance, which eliminates selfish accumulation of these graces.

“And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

This is perhaps the most unusual feature of this prayer because it concerns one person only. Death, though commonly shared among all, can only be experienced individually. One may think this to be “key” to the prayer in the sense that in order to be used by God, one must die to self and be made alive in Christ. This is first accomplished by repentance by faith in the finished work of Christ, then continues as one constantly puts to death the "old man." Here's what is meant: 

There are times when I would rather hate, injure, doubt, despair,  cover in dark, wallow in sadness, but when in this state I can be no instrument for God’s use.

There are times when I would like to be consoled, understood, loved, lavished upon, pardoned; yet, when I do not these things to others, my motives are self-serving and this is not the abundant life God would have for us. 

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