For Ash Wednesday: How to Pray with St. Francis and St. Clare

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”

As I joined other New Ways Ministry pilgrims in Assisi a couple of days ago to visit the holy sites associated with Saints Francis and Clare, I easily imagined St. Francis singing the Psalmist’s words.

St. Clare and St. Francis

The rolling hills and quiet streets and green olive trees seem to sing along in praise to their Creator. But what compels this sense of wonder and awe? Prayer and penance.

Prayer and penance permeated the lives of Francis and Clare. My first reaction to this statement is that they must have led terribly dull and depressing lives. However, all the historical sources show the exact opposite – that Francis and Clare were joy-filled and pleasant people. So, perhaps I need to change my understanding of prayer and penance if I am to accept that they are pathways to joy.

I look to Franciscan Sr. Ilia Delio for help. Delio, an awesome interpeter of the Franciscan tradition, writes the following about prayer:

“Prayer is the relationship with God which opens the eyes of believers to the sanctity of life — from earthworms to humans, to quarks to stars. Everything that exists reflects the goodness of God. Prayer is the breath of the Holy Spirit within us that opens our eyes to the divine good which saturates our world.”

Delio also writes the following about penance:

“The wisdom of Francis makes us realize that God loves us in our incomplete humanity even though we are always running away trying to rid ourselves of defects, wounds and brokenness. If we could only see that God is there in the cracks of our splintered human lives we would already be healed.”

During this Lenten season, I am going to try my best to take Sr. Ilia’s words to heart.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry

7 replies
  1. Anne Underwood
    Anne Underwood says:

    Refreshingly & honestly sweet reflection, Matt. Your insight & curiosity have peaked mine now — about two people & practices about which I have been prone more to detached amusement than considered engagement. Thank you.

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      Whoa! You folks actually made the NPR (National Public Radio) top-of-the-hour NEWSCAST, both this morning and this evening — and Francis was mentioned by name. NPR also commented that the Vatican press release referred to you only as “a group of American lay people” — without recognizing your affiliation with New Ways Ministries. “That’s one small step” (as Neil Armstrong famously said), but a long journey remains ahead of us.

  2. Anna VanSant
    Anna VanSant says:

    I loved this entry. Fr. Richard Rohr recently came out with a book on Franciscan spirituality that I am currently reading and meditating on this Lent.


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