Franciscan Prayer

For those not familiar with the Capuchin Franciscans, especially for those considering a religious vocation, one must wonder: "What makes them different than others?" In my provincial vocations newsletter Vocations Update, Fr. William Hugo OFM Cap. publishes a series of articles explaining the grand topic of Franciscan Prayer.

This first issue focuses on the pattern of Franciscan prayer. The assumption that this pattern comes from Francis of Assisi is only half true. Certainly his experience, recorded in numerous medieval legends, tells the story of Francis’ prayer in action. But, oddly, his writings do not systematize his pattern of prayer. Instead, it is Clare of Assisi, Francis’ partner in defining the Franciscan way of life, who gives us the four-part Franciscan approach to prayer in her second letter to Agnes of Prague: to gaze, to consider, to contemplate, and to imitate (20-21).

Francis and Clare sought a gospel way of life that would be different from that of monks. Yet, in fact, Clare’s prayer method included three steps that characterized monastic prayer before the Franciscan period, though she used her distinctive words. To gaze was akin to the monastic reading of Christ’s life from a gospel or a different scripture to get the story. Clare’s term to consider was much like the monastic meaning of meditation, i.e., imagining that one is on the scene of the scripture with all its smells, sounds, sights, tastes, feelings and movements. This second step was the work of imagination. Clare’s idea of contemplation even used the word of many monastic methods. It was the prayer of being with God and all the intimacies of conversation and presence after sharing the biblical experience through meditation.

However, Franciscan prayer stands out as different when Clare lists her fourth component as imitation. Monks typically did not include anything like imitation in their definitions or descriptions of prayer. By
highlighting imitation of Christ and God who is our partner in prayer, Franciscans clearly announce that prayer changes their lives. The goal does not end in union with God during prayer, but a transformation of
life brought about through the influence of prayer. Thus, Franciscan prayer and life become closely intertwined. Fashioning your own prayer according to this four-fold pattern, spending 5-10 minutes on each
step, can be a great way to deepen your prayer.

Future Updates will look at other characteristics of Franciscan prayer. But for now, a good way to begin an appreciation of the Franciscan style of prayer is to ask how your own prayer changes the rest of your life.

(William Hugo is Director of Postulancy and teaches Franciscan spirituality and history. He authored Studying the Life of Francis of Assisi: A Beginner’s Workbook, Franciscan Press, 1996.)

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