I was on retreat at Richmond Hill – without access to internet, TV or cell phone – when the white smoke arose from the Sistine Chapel announcing the election of a new Pope. On our way to the dining hall, someone mentioned that a new Pope had been chosen. Someone else said the new Holy Father was a Jesuit from Argentina. Mainly, I was just stunned that the election process was completed so quickly.
When I got home, John asked me over dinner if I’d heard about the new Pope. I said yes. He said: “You’ll never guess what name he chose.” When I heard his name was Francis, I dropped my fork. I’ve been giddy ever since hearing this!
My devotion to St. Francis of Assisi goes back many years. I spent several years discerning a call to the Secular Franciscan Order – and eventually chose to join a private association of the faithful known as The Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis (BSP). My feeling is that a Pope named Francis is a very great blessing for the world. Certainly, no one knows what the future holds, and there will be various problems and issues to resolve, but this just feels like a time of hope.
Most people, when thinking of St. Francis of Assisi, picture him blessings animals (especially birds) and all of creation. There’s a less commonly known story about him:
After his failed attempts as a knight, while praying in the dilapidated little chapel of San Damiano just outside of Assisi, he heard a voice say: “Go and repair my church, which as you see, is falling into ruin.” At first, Francis took this command literally and began repairing the chapel with his own hands. This led to the gathering of disciples who eventually became the mendicant Franciscan Order (approved by Pope Innocent III in 1209) – which initiated a time of great renewal in the Church.
Most people also associate Francis with the “Prayer of St. Francis” that begins with: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.” While this prayer is most definitely written in the Franciscan spirit, most scholars believe it was written several centuries later.
I would like to share here a most beautiful prayer that was in fact written by St. Francis near the end of his life (he died in 1226). I can imagine Pope Francis praying this:
Canticle of the Creatures (or Canticle of the Sun)
Most high, all-powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and governs us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks,
and serve him with great humility.