from Br. Mark Whitten, n/OEF- Offered as a midweek reflection at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church
IT was in the year 1209, about two years after the now famous vision that St Francis had at the San Damiano cross where he received direction to “rebuild my church which, you can see, is in ruin” yet before the saint had obtained any followers. At this time, Francis had occupied himself largely with a literal interpretation of that holy commission and was physically restoring abandoned chapels in the Italian countryside. Francis had also cast off all previously held privileges of class and family wealth in exchange for a simple, poor, life that he vowed to live completely for God
A wealthy lord, Bernard of Quintavalle, took notice of the harsh, poor living condition of Francis and also the public mockery that he endured with happy patience (some actually thought that Francis had lost his mind). Bernard recognized that Francis possessed tremendous grace and decided to invite him into his home to learn more.
That night, after dinner, Bernard had a guest bed brought to his own room. Bernard intended to test the holiness of Francis by secretly observing him through the night. As it was, both men pretended sleep, Bernard to hide his secret intentions, Francis to hide his prayer communion with God. After a short time, when Francis believed Bernard to be asleep, he arose in the early night, knelt, and began to adore God with the simple prayer “My God and my all” repeated gently, over and over throughout the remainder of the night.
Bernard observed the tremendous devotion that Francis had for God and while meditating on his words and actions was touched in the heart by the Holy Spirit and inspired to change his life. This event lead to the conversion of Lord Bernard who thereafter sold his possessions and followed Francis as the first of what would soon become many Friars Minor.
Francis recognized himself as a creation of God and learned to see the imprint of God in all those around him. What did he mean when he prayed the simple “My God and my all”? Was he acknowledging that all that he had came from God? Was he promising to give his whole self to God? Was he admitting his weakness, his need for God’s grace in every occasion? Did he realize that God was in him and he in God? I believe that it was some of these and something more, something currently beyond my consideration resulting from his direct communion with God while in deep prayer.
In our Christian lives today, Jesus places two commandments above all others.
In Mark 12 verses 29 through 31 when asked, Jesus said:
“… The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The Second is equally important: ‘ Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
How do we experience love? How do we love our neighbor as ourselves? Who, in this case, is our neighbor?
As a Lay Franciscan, the order that I am in formation with requires me to have a personal rule of life that challenges me to be in alignment with the general principles of the order. The last sentence of my personal rule reads “I seek the beauty and grace of Christ in all of my brothers and sisters, recognizing that our differences make us whole in community with the help of our Lord Christ.” This directly relates to Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.
This is our challenge, to see the imprint of our loving creator in all people. Not just our family, not just our friends, not just our fellow parishioners, all people.
Easier said than done. Certainly, I strive to treat my loved ones with respect, patience, dignity. But at the same time, I find myself quite guarded with strangers, uncomfortable in new places, uncertain and judgmental, my human nature is full of internally voiced assumptions when I meet anyone that is obviously different than I.
How can I silence this internal monologue that categorizes and judges everyone that is a strange neighbor to me?
I know for certain that I will not meet everyone fairly in Christian love without the help of God, I’ve acknowledged that it is not in my human nature.
I have found some notable success as I continue to develop a discipline of relying on God in all situations that cause me anxiety.
I have discovered Francis’ simple prayer to be very practical. “My God and my all”. It is powerful to invoke the presence of God by simply calling out. It is reassuring to positively acknowledge that all good things come from God and he is my strength in the face of human anxiety. It is really hard to not smile and find joy either in the call to God or in imagining Francis gently praying this prayer all night long. It is hard to have our savior and the saint so closely at mind and heart and still remain critical of the stranger I might be physically encountering.
When I leave my car, when I enter the store, when I approach this parish, when I see a stranger in the distance, while waiting in line, when I encounter the poor, when I interact with young people or people older and wiser than myself, I try to keep these words either quietly vocalized or mentally in time with my breath. “My God and my all.” This prayer fills my heart with love and puts a joyful smile on my face.
Please pray with me
My God and my all.
My God and my all.
May the peace of our Lord be with you. Amen.