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Transforming the world through reverence


William HugoWilliam Hugo , Capuchin

Franciscan prayer: the four-fold pattern
(First in a series of eight)

What makes the Franciscan prayer so unique? Each issue will discuss a small part of this large topic. Hopefully, by the end of this series, each of us will have a better understanding of how Franciscan prayer generally has fit into the mosaic of Franciscan and Capuchin life.

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 own 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 did not assume everyone got the story by reading. Thus, some would gaze at a picture 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 silently and wordlessly being with God with all the intimacies of mutual presence after having shared 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 of prayer. By highlighting the imitation of Christ who is our partner in prayer, Franciscans clearly announce that a changed life is part of prayer, and not its consequence. Prayer’s goal does not end in union
with God during prayer, but a transformation of one’s life, which is part of prayer. Thus, Franciscan prayer and life become closely intertwined.

Fashioning your own prayer according to this fourfold 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 a vocation director and teaches Franciscan
spirituality/history. He authored Studying the Life of Francis
of Assisi: A Beginner’s Workbook, Franciscan Press, 1996.)