This is a first! I’m happy to announce that a book composed of prayers, which appeared originally as Friar Jack’s E-spirations, was released earlier this year. I have written over a hundred of these personal essays since the column began in September of 2000. Now, more than 15 of these prayers and meditations are available in a book entitled Friar Jack’s Favorite Prayers.
The book, published in 2011 by St. Anthony Messenger Press, includes popular prayers such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Magnificat, the Anima Christi, St. Francis’ Prayer Before the Crucifix, the Way of the Cross, the Peace Prayer of St. Francis and several more.
To give you a bit of the flavor of this book, I am providing here one of the prayers I especially like, namely, St. Francis’ Prayer Before the Crucifix, which many of you are probably familiar with. Here is a slightly condensed version of my musings on this prayer:
“I have often reflected on this prayer, which, according to Franciscan scholars, was composed by St. Francis himself. The prayer begins:
enlighten the darkness
of my heart.
You will notice that Francis does not start the prayer with “Woe is me” or some dark misery of the soul. Rather, it begins focused on the glory and sublime beauty of God.
By just praying the words in a spirit of praise, our hearts grow lighter and we feel swept up into the glorious presence of God. The prayer starts with words of praise! Praise has a way of lifting us out of our self-absorption and anxiety. Praise and thanksgiving help enlighten the darkness of my heart.
For some reason, I’m pleased that Francis uses the word “heart,” rather than “mind,” when he prays. The word “mind” takes us too much into our heads. And that is not the real St. Francis. Heart is very much St. Francis. Heart suggests the complexities of human love and the mystery of one’s innermost longing—with all its related joys and sorrows.
Give me right faithWhen St. Francis says “right faith,” this somehow evokes the heart-transforming vision of God’s overflowing love, a love whereby God holds nothing back from us! That’s the kind of right faith that Francis—as well as you and I—are pleading for in this prayer. And doesn’t this right faith—which is focused upon the glorious revelation of God’s self-giving and infinite love—enlighten the darkness of our hearts?
We pray with Francis of the “sure hope” that flows from “right faith.” And where does this “sure hope” reveal itself to us more fully than in the Resurrection of Jesus? The disciples literally witnessed sure hope, when the risen Christ appeared to them on the first Easter Sunday. Consider, especially, the apostle Thomas in this regard. The risen Jesus so illumined this apostle’s doubt-darkened heart on that day that Thomas, in adoration, proclaimed without hesitation, “My Lord and my God!”
And perfect charity
Just as Francis sees Jesus on the cross handing himself over to Francis and to the whole human family with a total, perfect love, so Francis asks further for Christ to…
Fill me with understanding
that I may fulfill
This “command” is really God’s glorious plan that all God’s children persevere in the love of Christ and someday rise with Christ into God’s all-loving embrace.
Early Franciscan documents of the 13th century indicate that the crucifix before which St. Francis was praying was none other than the famous crucifix hanging in the little chapel of San Damiano, near Assisi. This beloved crucifix, familiar to followers of St. Francis worldwide, is known as the San Damiano cross.
If you look closely at the body of Christ as painted on this cross, you will see that it is not a bloody body or one twisted in anguish. Rather, his body is quite luminous, as if it was already his risen body, radiating the fullness of God. Instead of a crown of thorns, moreover, Christ’s head is surrounded by a glorious halo. And his body, with outstretched arms, appears to be ascending to heaven. In short, the image clearly suggests that it represents Jesus rising in glory.
If, indeed, this was the image of Christ which St. Francis was pondering as this prayer rose in his heart, it makes perfectly good sense that St. Francis would address Jesus as “Most High glorious God!” For all the signs of heavenly glory are there.
“O glorious God of overflowing love, enlighten the darkness of our hearts!”
We are happy to offer you the opportunity to buy a signed copy of Friar Jack’s Favorite Prayers! Purchase the book from St. Anthony Messenger Press and receive a copy personally signed by Friar Jack. The cost of the book is $12.99 (plus shipping and handling). Order the book here.