St. Francis of Assisi on the Lord's Prayer

This entry is quite different from my usual script. How does a mystical saint read Sacred Scripture? It’s one thing for academics to teach us about writing techniques of ancient peoples, such that we can better see the meanings of texts. But our goal is not to become scholars; it’s to become saints. So it would be wise to look at what saints see in Scripture. The Lord’s prayer is notorious for giving saints food for contemplation. Here follows St. Francis' commentary embedded into the Lord's Prayer (cf Mt 6:9-13, Lk 11:2-4).

Our Father:
most holy, our Creator and Redeemer, our Saviour and our Comforter.

Who art in heaven:
In the angels and the saints. You give them light so that they may have knowledge, because you, Lord, are light. You inflame them so that they may love, because you, Lord, are love. You live continually in them and you fill them so that they may be happy, because you, Lord, are the supreme good, the eternal good, and it is from you all good comes, and without you there is no good.

Hallowed be thy name:
May our knowledge of you become ever clearer, so that we may realize the extent of your benefits, the steadfastness of your promises, the sublimity of your majesty and the depth of your judgements.

Thy Kingdom Come:
So that you may reign in us by grace and bring us to your kingdom, where we shall see you clearly, love you perfectly, be happy in your company and enjoy you forever.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven:
That we may love you with our whole heart by always thinking of you; with our whole mind by directing our whole intention towards you and seeking your glory in everything; and with all our strength by spending all our energies and affections of soul and body in the service of your love alone. And may we love our neighbors as ourselves, encouraging them all to love you as best we can, rejoicing at the good fortune of others, just as if it were our own, and sympathizing with their misfortunes, while giving offense to no one.

Give us this day our daily bread:
Your own beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to remind us of the love he showed for us and to help us understand and appreciate it and everything that he did or said or suffered.

And forgive us our trespasses:
In your infinite mercy, and by the power of the Passion of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, together with the merits and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all your saints.

As we forgive those who trespass against us:
And if we do not forgive perfectly, Lord, make us forgive perfectly, so that we may really love our enemies for love of you, and pray fervently to you for them, returning no one evil for evil, anxious only to serve everybody in you.

And lead us not into temptation:
Hidden or obvious, sudden or unforeseen.

But deliver us from evil:
Present, past of future. Amen.

(“St. Francis of Assisi, Writings and Early Biographies, English Omnibus of the Sources for the Life of St. Francis,” Ed. Marion A. Habig, Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, IL, 1973)

Let’s notice a few points of interest. First, note how St. Francis ties everything to the overall Faith. For example, “Thy will be done” conjures an understanding of the will of God as Love, and we reflect that Love in the two-fold law of love of God and love of neighbor. Second, note the bread St. Francis asks for is not ordinary bread; rather, it is the Bread of the Eucharist. The Church generally understands the same, as we pray this prayer immediately before we partake of Holy Communion at Mass. Third, let’s compare the two conditional sentences: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others. In the first sentence, Francis sees love, from God’s love to our own love. In the second, Francis sees mercy, from God’s mercy to our own mercy. These two phrases bookend the bread of the Eucharist: love and mercy. This is where the saint’s mind is when he asks for his daily bread. I admit, I have much to learn here.

Furthermore, note how Francis sees heaven in the second line: it is not the place where God and His saints resides – it is God and His saints themselves, which he expresses so beautifully. Finally, note how this prayer is addressed to the Father, but to the saint this same Father is in communion with the Trinity so that he addresses Him as all three. Such a Trinitarian mindset can inspire us as to how we also should normally see God.

Now let’s look leave the saint and return to the scholar. (Sorry, I'm weak and always go running to the scholars.) Liturgical scholar Louis Bouyer has a few things to teach us about the Lord’s Prayer. The following is distilled or quoted from his seminal work, ”Eucharist - Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer” (tr. C. Underhill Quinn, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN, 1968).

According to Luke, Jesus taught this prayer after his disciples asked Him how to pray (Lk 11:1). Certain elements of Jesus’ prayer match an older prayer used by the Jews in their synagogue blessing prayers:

Magnified and sanctified be his great name. Amen. In the world which he has created according to his will. And may he establish his kingdom during your life and during your days and during the life of all the house of Israel, even speedily and at a near time. Amen. (ibid, pg 61)

These three sentences certainly align with three sentences of the Lord’s Prayer; therefore we cannot escape the context of the Lord’s Prayer: it is related to the blessing prayers of the synagogue services of Jesus’ day. A part of those blessing prayers included personal mental prayer, where each member of the congregation was to silently call to mind the blessings, in his own words. Those blessings included a renewal of the themes of kingdom, God’s great name, and God’s will. But also, to be silently contemplated, were prayers asking for knowledge, for forgiveness, and for redemption from evil – all of which Jesus touched upon in His prayer. When his disciples asked Him how to pray, Jesus taught them how to pray within the context of the synagogue liturgy. The Lord’s Prayer is, then, liturgical in nature.

Fr. Bouyer’s theme of the above work is the evolution of the ancient Jewish liturgical blessing prayers into the Christian liturgical prayers for the Eucharist. The blessings for which the Jews prayed were accomplished in the Eucharist. It is fitting, then, that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer we remember our Eucharistic Jesus. That is, pray it as St. Francis did, as we saw above. It is a prayer of praise and of petition; but what is the petition we ask? In the spirit of the Eucharist, we are obviously asking for one thing. As we read on in Luke’s narrative, Jesus explains His prayer: it is essentially a request to receive the Holy Spirit.

And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Lk 11:9-13)