The Canticle of Brother Sun
As we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis October 4, I wanted to offer the following reflection on one of his most well-known prayers:
“Most High, all-powerful, good Lord, Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honor, and all blessing,/ To You alone, Most High, do they belong, and no human is worthy to mention Your name.” Thus, one cold, autumn morning, St. Francis began to praise God. He was staying in a rough little cell constructed for him in the garden of San Damiano, next to the monastery where St. Clare and her Sisters lived. Suffering from an eye disease, unable to bear the light of sun or fire, tormented by mice day and night, and in pain, he could not rest. So he cried out to the Lord. And Francis received a grace: the Lord told him that in exchange for these trials he would receive a greater treasure than anything in the world—the kingdom of heaven. So when morning came, Francis began to praise God for, and in union with, all of His creatures.
The Saint who had to stay in the dark all day prayed: “Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, Who is the day and through whom You give us light./ And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor; and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.”
He who couldn’t rest at night and whose illness grew worse because of the cold could say: “Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful./ Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather, through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.”
Perhaps water was, indeed, one consolation. But fire was too bright to bear. Still God was to be praised. “Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water, who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste./ Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom You light the night, and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.”
And, though Francis had often delighted in the goodness of creation, he was now too blind to behold its beauty. Yet, he prayed, “Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.”
Later on, on two different occasions—but this is a story for another time—St. Francis added more verses: Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love, and bear infirmity and tribulation./ Blessed are those who endure in peace for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned./ Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no one living can escape./ Woe to those who die in mortal sin. Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm./ Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.
For the rest of his life, St. Francis sang these praises of the Creator, and they brought him great consolation in his illness. In the midst of suffering, he could rejoice in the mercy of God. In trial, he looked forward to the glory of heaven. Though blind, he could see the Lord’s goodness, even in those very creatures which caused him such great discomfort. It was as if Francis’ view became expansive and he saw with great clarity what really mattered.
It is not so easy to praise God in the midst of life’s difficulties. But for those of us in trial, we have an example and an intercessor in St. Francis. For that matter, those of us experiencing consolation can also turn to the example and intercession of Francis. He can teach us how to see God’s goodness and how to sing His praises. May we, then, like St Francis, learn to praise God at all times in all things, and may we experience His love and mercy.
St. Francis, pray for us!
Sr. Cecilia, CFR