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Lenten Help From
Francis of Assisi

Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.
Source: St. Anthony Messenger magazine
Published: Wednesday, February 29, 2012
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Tree on the slopes of LaVerna in the Tuscany region of Italy
St. Francis of Assisi loved the Ash Wednesday-through-Holy Saturday Lent so much that he observed two more: the period between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday and later the 40 days before the Sept. 29 feast of St. Michael the Archangel. Francis sometimes observed these lents at LaVerna, a mountainous retreat in Tuscany, or in similarly isolated spots. In a sense, Francis lived Lent year-round. During these times of prayer, Francis explored the three questions below at deeper and deeper levels.

Who Is God for Me?

We inevitably become like the God whom we worship. Our first Lenten priority, therefore, is prayer to purify our ideas and feelings about our God. That means taking a new look at God’s self-revelation in Scripture.

Becoming comfortable with the God described in some parts of Scripture is usually pretty easy. In fact, sometimes this is too easy! Pagans were good at domesticating their gods and goddesses, making sure that they never required very much of humans. Christians and Jews have sometimes preferred comfort over truth in dealing with the biblical God.

Lectio divina is a good Lenten practice.
The prayerful reading of Scripture predates Jesus, but it took on a new importance after him. In praying this way, Francis of Assisi was simply following St. Luke’s high praise of Jesus’ mother: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (2:19) and “his mother kept all these things in her heart” (2:51b).

Francis once criticized those friars who wished only to know the words of Scripture and interpret them for others. He continued, “And those people are brought to life by the spirit of the divine letter who do not attribute every letter they know, or wish to know, to the body but, by word and example, return them to the most high Lord God to Whom every good belongs” (Admonition VII). Francis gave his Admonitions to the friars during their meetings in Assisi.

We become different people in the course of honest and persevering prayer. By recognizing our previous blind spots and repenting for them, we move closer to being the people God created us to be.
This Lent, can we see more of God’s self-revelation in Scripture?

God's Creatures or Competitors?

During his three lents, Francis drew closer to people through prayerfully realizing how much God loves each person.

We sometimes forget this when we encounter one another’s sins. The Pharisee praying in the Jerusalem temple recognized the tax collector’s sins but not his own (Lk 18:9-12). On the other hand, the tax collector prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (18:13). Jesus concludes: “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (18:14).

Francis told the friars: “Nothing should displease a servant of God except sin. And no matter how another person may sin, if a servant of God becomes disturbed or angry because of this and not because of charity, he is storing up guilt for himself” (Admonition XI).

On another occasion, Francis told the friars: “That person truly loves his enemy who is not hurt by an injury done to him, but, because of love of God, is stung by the sin of his soul. Let him show him love by his deeds” (Admonition IX).

Righteous indignation can be misplaced. It’s all too easy to have a short list of people who truly matter to us and a long list of those who don’t. How easily we see many people as competitors instead of recognizing them as women and men created and loved by God! The compassionate deeds of St. Francis began in prayer and self-denial.

Can we become more compassionate people before Easter?

Who Am I Before God?

Francis once told his friars, “What a person is before God, that he is and no more” (Admonition XIX). We can rightly add, “and no less.”

Telling lies about ourselves is no more virtuous than telling lies about other people. In fact, it is even more dangerous. Jesus came so that we might live in the truth, which, like a candle’s light, shines in every direction.

How we “see” God also determines how we see others and ourselves. Lent would be very dangerous if we allowed it to reinforce a distorted image about God, others and ourselves. Prayer and fasting had apparently made the Pharisee praying in the temple more blind to his own sins.

Honest and persevering prayer will eventually expose all our blind spots, leading us to be more grateful to God and more compassionate toward all God’s creatures, including ourselves.

Can this Lent help us live more integrated lives?

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