Franciscan Prayer: Recognize Your Brothers and Sisters in Christ (Part 7 in a series)

A lot of people are amazed when I claim that the core of the Franciscan mission is to create sister-brotherhood as often and as radically as possible. I’ve already discussed this regarding Francis’ prayer considering creation, which helped him to understand God’s selflessness in sharing life and all created things as his sisters and brothers.

Francis also used the metaphor of sister-brotherhood in another slightly different way that also flowed out of his prayer. Francis understood all baptized Christians to be brothers and sisters because they were united to Christ in service to the same Father. In medieval Italy, the premier characteristic of a good child was obedience to the project of the parents. So, in Francis’ view, Jesus was the best child imaginable. He selflessly served his selfless Father.

Francis believed that through baptism Christians were united to Jesus in his service to the Father’s vision. To serve the Father means one is the Father’s child. If all the baptized have the same father, they must be sisters and brothers to each other and to Christ. For Francis, this reflection had a tight yet simple logic.

My point here is to note how Francis and Clare believed we learned how to be those good children by gazing at, meditating on, and contemplating the best available example: Jesus!

So, whether we consider the Universal Sister-brotherhood of All Creatures or the slightly different Sister-brotherhood in Christ, the Franciscan vision flows out of both the favored methods and content of prayer. The content or object of reflection is the very life of God visible in the human Jesus. The method includes Clare’s novel addition of imitation to the standard three-fold monastic style of gazing (reading), considering (meditating), and contemplating.

Prayer changes Franciscans’ lives. It changes the way they experience and understand God (i.e., poor and humble). As a consequence, Franciscans come to a new experience and understanding of themselves and others. Through this, they are touched in every way possible at the deepest parts of their lives. This changes their desire and the things they seek. Desiring to imitate the Jesus with whom they have walked in prayer, they find ways of living out God’s poverty and humility in the world.