Prayer, St. Francis and Self-transcendence

Human beings are creatures whose meaning and purpose to be achieved is a goal beyond what they presently are. We are creatures on the move and we make ourselves through our own thinking and deciding. Paradoxically, however, a human life cannot be conceived in terms of self-sufficiency; no one lives a fully human life by pursuing a merely human goal. To put the same thing somewhat differently, to be human is to be on the way to a life that is more than what it is at any stage on the journey.

St.FrancisPreachingtotheBirds_GiottoIf the goal of human life is not the merely human, what is it? To be human is to be oriented toward God in knowledge, action and love. To be human, in other words, is to desire God, and prayer is an expression of that divine longing. Actual prayer expresses our awareness as dependent creatures. Any explicit acknowledgement of one’s creaturehood is a form of prayer, but when one turns to God with the intention of giving glory to the Source and Goal of all existence, there is a prayer of praise. Francis of Assisi was overwhelmed with the sense of God’s transcendent goodness:

Let all of us

            wherever we are

            in every place

            at every hour

            at every time of day

            everyday and continually

believe truly and humbly

and keep in [our] heart

and love, honor, adore, serve

            praise and bless

            glorify and exalt

            magnify and give thanks to

the most high and supreme eternal God

Trinity and Unity

the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit

Creator of all

Savior of all who believe in Him

            and hope in Him

            and love Him

Who is

            without beginning and without end

            unchangeable, invisible,

            indescribable, ineffable,

            incomprehensible, unfathomable,

            blessed, worthy of praise,

            glorious, exalted on high, sublime,

            most high, gentle, lovable,

            delectable and totally desirable above all else

            forever. Amen.

Francis and Clare: The Complete Works, translated by Regis Armstrong and Ignatius Brody (Paulist, 1982), 133-34.

Francis has captured the essence, not of God (that would be impossible) but of the human being as made to love God. Praise, as the explicit giving of glory to God, defines us because human desire wants what is “delectable and totally desirable above all else forever.” All of creation gives glory to God simply by existing; the human creature praises God by being human. People praise God, in other words, through their intellectual, moral and religious self-transcendence. Prayer expresses our deepest and truest meaning; human beings are pray-ers, and each human life is some sort of prayer.

 David Hammond teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.


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