A Mystical Way of Life
by Angie Foster, Authorised Lay Minister for Worship + Prayer & Spirituality
Having been asked to write the prayers for a recent Family Service, I came across this famous prayer:
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.
O Divine Master, 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;
Through the love of thy Son who died for us,
Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.
This prayer, as many of you will know, was written by St. Francis of Assisi and this led me to do a little further research about him: Francis experienced a profound conversion as a young man. When he was on his way to fight in the Papal Army, he was told in a dream to leave his fellow soldiers and return to Assisi where it would be shown to him what he was to do. He listened to the dream and returned home confused and despondent. One day, he met a leper on the road. Something impelled him to dismount his horse and not only place coins in the leper’s hand, but to embrace the leper. In so doing, he was filled with indescribable joy. In that instant he knew he had embraced Jesus Christ. He knew then what he was to do with his life: to embrace Jesus in the poor and rejected, in those who had previously repulsed him.
Shortly afterwards, praying before the crucifix in the dilapidated chapel of San Damiano outside Assisi’s walls, he heard a voice from the crucifix saying, “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.” Francis responded immediately, begging stones and rebuilding this little chapel with his own hands. As he was to learn later, it was the Catholic Church itself that he was to restore. How he was to do this he learned while attending mass one day. He heard in the Gospel that the true disciples of Christ should take no gold, or silver, or copper in their belts, no bag for their journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff (Matthew 10:9–10). He was filled with joy and said, “This is what I want; this is what I desire with all my heart.” He renounced his patrimony, gave away all his possessions, and began the life of an itinerant preacher who dwelled among the lepers. Others followed, and the Franciscan way of life began.
In all of this it was Jesus whose footsteps he followed. It was Jesus who was his all. He fell in love with Christ in an intimate, almost overwhelming way.
Two years before he died, Francis was given one of the most extraordinary of mystical experiences. He was praying on a mountain in Tuscany in preparation for the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel when suddenly he was caught up in ecstasy and saw above him a six-winged flaming Seraph angel. Four wings were outstretched and two covered the body of the Crucified Christ. Francis’ response to this image was so intense that when he awoke, he bore within his own flesh the Sacred Stigmata, the wounds of the crucified Christ in his feet and hands and side. And they remained all the rest of his life as visible signs of the profound mystical life of St. Francis.
As we approach Christmas time, it is good to remember the simple life of St. Francis and his concern, compassion and love for the poor and needy in his community. There are many opportunities like Christingle, the Toy Service and Christmas on Jesus for example, where we might be able to help those who are struggling and finding life’s demands challenging this year.
I hope we all hear the message of love, kindness and generosity that St. Francis demonstrated and can do our bit, however small. Thank you.
(With acknowledgement to Richard Rohr).