William Hugo , Capuchin
Franciscan prayer: the four-fold pattern
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
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
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
(William Hugo is a vocation director and teaches Franciscan