“Enlighten the darkness of my heart”

Latton foxes gather around St Francis. Photo by The Revd Lynn Hurry

When St Francis gave up his life as a kind of lad-about in Assisi – when he turned away from drinking, fighting, leading a pack of rebels, it was because he had been brought up sharp by Jesus.
Not for the first time or the last, God had visited the soul of one whose life was going in entirely the wrong direction. Francis’s soul was sick and needed healing.
So God drew him away to a derelict church of St. Damiano on the edge of Assisi. There he knelt in prayer and looked at the faded crucifix still hanging over the altar. Francis insists that the voice of Christ came to him from that crucifix, at that moment. The words he heard were: Francis, rebuild my church, which you see is falling down.
The derelict Church certainly needed repairing, just as Francis’s soul needed rebuilding. Francis was about to begin his ministry and service for God.

First, though, he had to get to know the One who called him to this service and to know the love of God flowing into him and through him to others. Francis opened his heart to God in Holy conversation.
As  he knelt in that place of meeting with Jesus, the first prayer he said was one that was to remain with him throughout the rest of his life.

The Prayer before the Crucifix

Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me
true faith,
certain hope,
and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge,
Lord, that I may carry out
Your holy and true command

Another prayer is this which was to become food for his soul, in which he prays that the love of the Lord Jesus should enter his heart and absorb him with its fire and sweetness. It is known as the Absorbeat because God’s loving Spirit possesses him.

May the power of your love, Lord Christ,
fiery and sweet as honey,
so absorb our hearts
as to withdraw them from all that is under heaven.
Grant that we may be ready
to die for love of your love,
as you died for love of our love.

Francis certainly used this prayer often , and it is characteristic of his spirituality.

A simple, yet deeply profound prayer was one that he is said to have dictated as he lay dying.
It was a prayer which he had used often and wasn’t original, but it was so important to him that it was his deathbed prayer. Many will know it in some form.

We adore you, most holy Lord Jesus Christ,
here, and in all your churches throughout all the world;
and we bless you,
because, by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world.

Francis grew quickly and deeply in love with God and this spurred on his eagerness and zeal to serve others in God’s Name.

Richard Rohr, a much loved Franciscan brother who lives in America and teaches Franciscan spirituality wrote this week that the only way we can truly know how to love God is to love what God loves. Only then do we love with divine love and allow it to flow through us.

It is not always easy to do that because such love has to be stripped of anything that  makes demands or is tinged with our desire for them to be what we want.
A Franciscan theologian, Duns Scotus, put it this way.

“we are to love things in and as themselves, to love things for what they are, not for what they do for us. That’s when we really begin to love our spouses, our children, our neighbours, and others. When we free them from our agendas, then we can truly love them without concern for what they do for us, or how they make us look, or what they can get us. We begin to love them in themselves and for themselves, as living images of God. Now that takes real work!”

Through Prayer and especially time alone with and for God, this spirituality of loving what God loves, simply because God does so, became central to St Francis’s own spirituality and way of life. It became the driving force for his work with the poor, the sick, the lepers, animals, birds and all of nature.
It was how he came to love and honour God.

So he came to Praise God  above all else.
This he expressed in another Prayer poem

Praises of God.

You alone are holy,
you who work wonders!.
You are strong, you are great,
you are the Most High,
you are the almighty King,
you, holy Father, King of heaven and earth.

Lord God: you are Three and you are One,
you are goodness, all goodness,
you are the highest Good,
Lord God, living and true.

You are love and charity, you are wisdom,
you are humility, you are patience,
you are beauty, you are sweetness,
you are safety, you are rest, you are joy,
you are our hope
and our delight,
you are justice, you are moderation
you are all our wealth
and riches overflowing.

You are beauty, you are gentleness,
you are our shelter, our guard
and our defender,
you are strength, you are refreshment,
you are our hope.
you are our faith.
you are our love,
you are our complete consolation,
you are our life everlasting,
great and wonderful Lord,
all powerful God, merciful Saviour!


Of course, we are probably all familiar with the poem/song  Make me a channel of your peace. It is known as the Prayer of St. Francis but it was not written by him. Indeed in was probably written in the 1920’s but who could read, pray or sing it, without acknowledging that it is marinated in St. Francis’s own spirituality.

There is so much in his sayings, these prayers, and canticles I haven’t referred to, but if we are to understand the witness and service of St. Francis, these prayers above are a good place to start.

The San Damiano Cross from Fr. Michael Scanlan

[Mr G]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s