It is time to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work. Clearly, the Christian who prays does not claim to be able to change God’s plans or correct what he has foreseen. Rather, he seeks an encounter with the Father of Jesus Christ, asking God to be present with the consolation of the Spirit to him and his work. A personal relationship with God and an abandonment to his will can prevent man from being demeaned and save him from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism. An authentically religious attitude prevents man from presuming to judge God, accusing him of allowing poverty and failing to have compassion for his creatures. When people claim to build a case against God in defense of man, on whom can they depend when human activity proves powerless?
The journey of prayer for Franciscans is the discovery of God at the center of our lives. We pray not to acquire a relationship with God as if acquiring something that did not previously exist. Rather, we pray to disclose the image of God in which we are created, the God within us, that is, the one in whom we are created and in whom lies the seed of our identity. We pray so as to discover what we already have—“the incomparable treasure hidden in the field of the world and of the human heart.(St. Clare)”
This time of being “alone” with God is essential to fully live the Franciscan spirit. To build relationship with anyone takes time, effort and presence, and that also includes relationship with God. If we are willing to constantly make the effort, the Holy Spirit will lead us to the relationship we seek, and, for the Franciscan, effect the peace and joy we need to love and serve all God’s creation, simply because it is God’s and it is good.
This intimacy of prayer—breathing with the Spirit of God—was at the heart of the life of Francis of Assisi. He advised his followers to have, above all things (supra omnia) the Spirit of the Lord and his holy manner of working, to pray always and to have a pure heart.
The whole of life is a challenge to prayer. Happy events call for one kind of prayer; sad events for another. Progress and success, care and distress, illness and recovery, birth and death: everything that happens in life must find expression in prayer and determine its nature. We must become more sensitive and perhaps — if we may put it thus — more inventive. Prayer should not always be restricted to the selfsame thoughts and words while life passes by in all its diversity. We must bring everything that happens in our life before God as before a master or friend, or rather as before a father to whom everything matters which concerns us. We must show it to Him, thank Him, seek for strength and enlightenment, ask for His help, and seek repose with Him.
Francis, who knew the pain of once living an empty life, models the way toward answering the question “what should I do?” His answer is to listen to God. Thanks to the gifts of technology, medicine and other sciences, we have been led to believe, given enough time and resources, that humanity can find the answer to any problem unaided. … Now we are left with a cultural milieu that can be described as absent of God, and a population that has forgotten the source of its very being. It is no wonder this generation struggles with discovering what they should do and who they are.
But, I cannot help but wonder whether we might find Francis on Facebook had he been born in our lifetime and not nearly a millennium ago. If he did not personally join Facebook or use Twitter or build a profile on LinkedIn, then I imagine that those friars who might find themselves compelled to reach out to others and preach the Gospel online might ask for his blessing. In return, Francis might give his approval as he did to St. Anthony of Padua when the friar asked if he could teach the other friars theology – something that seemed contrary to Francis’s original “game plan” of Gospel living. Francis’s response might read something like this: “I am pleased that you want to be present on Facebook and through other social media providing that, as is contained in the Rule, you ‘do not extinguish the Spirit of prayer and devotion’ during this activity.” And with that, a new age of mission and ministry would have begun.
Franciscan prayer is about relationship with a God of overflowing love. It is discovering the God of love at the center of our lives and of our world and finding the truth of our identity in God. To enter into this relationship one must be a person of desire. God does not force us into a relationship of love but freely gives us the grace to respond to his invitation of love. Spiritual desire is the longing of the heart for relationship with God that brings happiness and peace.
ln a popular expression of the times, he (St. Francis) taught them ‘by word and example’ (verbo et exemplo). And, by their own testimony, he was for them a living example of what he taught: He edified his listeners by his example as well as his words; ‘he made his whole body a tongue’; ‘more than someone who prayed, he had become prayer’: these are some of the descriptions of Francis recalled by Thomas of Celano. That is, his whole person had become the message he was trying to communicate.
We should have a fixed center which, like the hub of a wheel, governs our movements and from which all our actions go out and to which they return; a standard, also, or a code by which we distinguish the important from the unimportant, the end from the means, and which puts actions and experiences into their proper order; something stable, unaffected by change and yet capable of development, which makes it clear to us who we are and how matters stand with us.