These reflections* are like eye witnesses to an event – each experiencing it in a different way. Each topic explores Franciscan Prayer from a different perspective so I made no effort to tie them together. As a whole they represent a beautiful mosaic of this life of prayer. You will also see that all of these topics encompass St. Clare’s method of prayer as well.
There are many other topics discussed in the book so I highly recommend reading it.
I am, by nature, oriented toward God, even though desire is the compass in my life that directs me to individualism, privatism and selfishness. I am also a person of prayer who seeks the grace to reorient my soul completely toward God. Who cries out from the depths of my heart to the God of compassionate love. Who realizes that prayer opens wide my heart and becomes dangerous, costly and even fatal. It must also be continual, attentive and enriched by loving relationships.
In this life of prayer I uncover another aspect: I uncover something that is precious and glorious within me; namely, my image of God and my image of self. My image of God is crucial to the way my journey of prayer proceeds. Prayer reveals the love of God as it clears away the dross that covers the image of God I maintain. In revealing His love I begin to see what God desires for me by sending His Holy Spirit into my life and drawing me into the fullness of His life. I become centered in Him. I become one with His Spirit.
My image of self undergoes a remarkable transformation. As prayer leads me to a fuller understanding of self, I become free of that self. I sense the manifestation of God within me. And this self-knowledge becomes the basis for my relationship with God. Grace begins to enter in as the Holy Spirit takes root in my heart. Prayer keeps my heart devoted to God, driving away evil, and retaining what is good. Prayer becomes my way to freedom in God.
Because prayer joins my self to the love of God I am also joined to His Son made visible in the crucified Christ. This union transforms me into the image of the crucified Son and leads me in becoming a vessel of God’s compassionate love for others. I am lead to this by becoming an imitator of Christ in renewing the life of Christ by my transformation. As a consequence, I am impelled to see the world with a new vision. The world becomes my cloister, permeated with the goodness of God. And I put on the spirit of martyrdom which leads to happiness and eternal life. Peace can now be achieved as the grace of the Spirit that encompasses my heart is allowed to shine.
God expresses Himself by giving Himself away in love in the Eucharist. He becomes the food that gives me strength to make every stranger beloved. I participate in the Eucharist knowing I am being made its agent; for whatever happens to me must be done by me. As a peacemaker I live the Eucharistic life.
My desire for God is built into the structure of my being. However, the desires of the flesh compete with this desire for God. Because my desires are ambivalent and complex, fear often gets in the way of what I most deeply want/desire. Therefore, I pay attention to my desires to sort out their demands as they are the deepest cravings within me. They kindle within me:
• An outcry of prayer that makes me call aloud in the groaning of my heart.
• Flashes of insight by which I am most directly focused on God.
These desires are the compass of my life, so I learn to name them. I let them become prayer so grace can enter in and the Holy Spirit take root in my heart. My perseverance in prayer deepens my trust in God, and I become more open to grace and abide ever deeper in God’s mercy. Virtue begins to well up and the grip of material desires loosens. I use penance to acquire a single-hearted desire for God; and He distills the desires of my heart so I may live my life more fully. These spiritual desires originate from the experience of His merciful love and my fearful emptiness, so that giving my heart to God kills my self-centered ego and silences my cares, desires and imaginings.
A friendship of mutuality begins to take root as God’s desire for me and my desire for Him grows. Illusions of individualism, privatism and selfishness recede as God’ love is born in me and becomes life-giving. I discover God in my desires more and more, allowing my soul to expand its capacity of embracing Him. My trust in Him begins to flow out of me, touching all those around me, and producing friendships that celebrate the life we share.
God fully communicates the mystery of His overflowing love through the poverty of the Crucified Christ because Divine revelation is the movement of God to poverty. I embrace this poverty as it is expressed in Their language of love. Their poverty opens my heart to the love of the Holy Spirit and I become a person in the truest sense of Their relationship. In this poverty my complete self-abandonment and unreserved surrender is given to the mercy and grace of God that is realized as my heart overflows with His mercy.
Embracing this poverty invites the Spirit into my very being Whose gift frees me to accept both God’s and the crucified Christ’ loving embrace. Through poverty, along with penance, humility, compassion, and reconciliation, I discover that everything is imbued with the goodness of God and I need to overcome my violent self and allow for the appearance of my truly loving self. This poverty leads to the interdependence with my neighbor by not holding back anything of my self. It releases me from my self-concerns and opens a space within me to embrace God and my neighbor. It is through poverty, suffering, and humility that I become more like the image of God as can be seen by gazing upon the Crucified One. Thus I begin imitating God and achieve spiritual transformation.
Since my flesh is weak and can be both an enemy and deceiver, a life of penance becomes the gift of the heart, soul, mind and strength to God and neighbor. Through penance I am led to a single-hearted desire for God; and distill the desires of my heart so as to live fully human. I progressively radiate God’s face to the world and bring Christ to birth within others by example.
Because everything is imbued with the goodness of God, I discover that I grow into the spirit of penance, poverty, humility, compassion, reconciliation and peace. I endure the gestation period of penance to learn to:
• Love family, friends, strangers and enemies
• Maintain kenotic self-denial
• Turn my heart ever toward the crucified Christ
• Overcome inner temptations of violence
• Go from inner war to inner peace
• Disarm my heart
• Become God’s instrument of disarmament
• Recreate me
And in so doing I start:
• Living the gospel life
• Becoming a lover of peace
The Humility, sacrifice, penance and patience I pursue are the prerequisites that grace builds on in order for me to befriend the crucified Christ.
Transformation & Imitation
By accepting my strengths and weaknesses I discover my spirituality/contemplation focuses on:
• Freedom – born of the joy of the Spirit
• Transformation – imitation insofar as the crucified Christ coming alive in my life
The Spirit transforms me in love which ultimately leads to imitation. Prayer transforms me into an image of the crucified Spouse which leads me to become a vessel of God’s compassionate love for others. By dwelling on the crucified Christ – heart, mind and soul – I transform my whole being into the image of the Godhead and thus expose myself to the joys and sorrows of being human. This transformation into an image of Christ assures me of discovering the truth.
Through my gazing on the crucified Christ I am:
• Lifted up to God through compassion
• Transformed into the crucified Christ by self-emptying
• Embracing my neighbor by offering universal reconciliation
• Refashioned to the state of innocence
• Pierced by the nails of the fear of God
• Transfixed by the sword of intimate compassion
• Wounded by the spear of superabundant love
This gazing makes me see the heart of charity hidden in the heart of Christ while feeling and tasting the hidden sweetness of God as I undergo the continuous process of transformation. Meanwhile my mediocrity remains respected and is never encroached upon by God Who continuously invites me to enlarge my capacity for achieving complete transformation. This invitation involves poverty and grace as the keys which lead to achieving this complete transformation and the imitating of the crucified Christ. The transformation forms me into a person of peace, renewing the life of Christ, and allowing the love God to heal with love.
• The removal of any disguise that keeps me from discovering my true humanity
• The deep penetrating vision of reality I acquire as I find my center of gravity in God
• Looking into the depths of things and seeing them in their true relation to God
• Seeing God in the crucified Christ with the eyes of the Spirit
• The way my self achieves its true form as image of God
• Not directed toward heaven but toward the fullness of the Incarnation that impels me to love by giving of my self
• The penetrating gaze of my heart on my neighbor as directed by the Spirit
As I contemplate my unworthiness before the overflowing compassionate and merciful love of God, His compassionate love forges me into an image of the crucified Christ. This enables me to embrace God’s love in every aspect of creation. Becoming an image of the crucified Christ allows me to penetrate the truth of the mystery in the community of mankind. I embrace my neighbor as I come to the fullness of who I am.
Even though God has already entered into the darkness of my heart and loves me with all my pain and rejection, He often remains hidden behind the wall of my heart. It snatches, too eagerly, perishable things that keep it numb so it neither burns nor glows. And as long as my heart does not surrender to God, neither do I. I must surrender my heart to Him in order to imitate the crucified Christ. With its surrender the Spirit makes me the home and dwelling place of the Trinity where I offer sacrifice by lifting up my heart to Them. This marks the death of my self-centered ego and silences my cares, desires and imaginings. I am no longer able to withdraw. My embrace of the indwelling God progressively gives birth to Christ in the world.
In order to insure that my heart doesn’t succumb to harm from dangerous passions, I practice the reading of Scripture to trap and hold it in the arms of my compassionate Lord. I gaze on the Crucified Christ which allows the Spirit of God’s love to enter in. I dispossess all that I own so I grow rich in the Spirit Who invades my heart with the fire of His love. Thus I receive the life-giving awareness of God Who I come to know and serve. By my total surrender and through the power of the Holy Spirit, I acquire purity of heart, which becomes the proper soil to receive the Word of God; and develop a prayer life that is continual, attentive and enriched by loving relationships.
My heart becomes the hearth of my personhood; the place where the kindling of the Spirit takes place and all creation is allowed to move toward its completion in God. I embrace my neighbors and creation itself with the love in my heart that shines through my life. Peace now becomes a way of being. I acquire a spiritual attitude that accepts the fact that I am just as much apart of the problem as anyone.
* Franciscan Prayer by Ilia Delio, OSF. The only change my reflections made is in the style of the book: I personalized them instead of leaving them in the second and third person plural (we, us, they and them).