Franciscan prayer for all of us: a conversation with Jon Sweeney

What does it meant to pray like a Franciscan?

This question is one that I reflect on regularly. It’s part of my tendency to informally self-evaluate, to ask myself how I am doing at living my vocation. Typically, the question leads me right to Jesus on the cross. As modeled centuries ago by Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi, it’s where I know my gaze is meant to be fixed. I also work to notice what else has my attention and focus. And, I assess how I am doing at living the Franciscan values that I am committed to: poverty, nonviolent Gospel-living, minority, continual conversion and right relationship with all of God’s creation.

Since I am committed to this Franciscan way of life and am working to keep myself in check, I appreciate good resources that help to enrich my prayer life. And I naturally become fascinated when someone who is not a professed Franciscan is the one who helps offers such blessings.

Enter Jon Sweeney and his recently-released prayer book, “Lord Make Me an Instrument of Peace: The Complete Prayers of St. Francis, St. Clare and other early Franciscans.” It’s a gem that I have been appreciating for the past few months.

I recently interviewed Jon about the prayer book.

Sister Julia: Does Franciscan spirituality influence you personally?
Jon: I sure hope so. I’ve been inspired by Francis and Clare since I was a teenager and first discovered their way of living the Gospel. That Way is also very much like living the Gospel of Jesus in the Beatitudes. Most of all, I try to be a help to those who are crushed by the world’s cruelties, and I try to turn away from the shiny things that distract us too easily, in favor of the simple way that Francis taught his first followers.

Sister Julia : What inspired you to create this prayer book?
Jon: This book is a 17-year labor of love. It was in 2003 that I wrote “The St. Francis Prayer Book,” and it was a result of my own prayer life, and my own attempt to pray in the Way of Francis. Then came “The St. Clare Prayer Book” four years later, and then a decade later I spent a lot of time praying in and through the holy fool themes in early Franciscans like Juniper and Giles, and much of that comprises part three of this book.

Sister Julia: What are your hopes for this book?
Jon: I want people to pray with this book. I’ve written other books about the lives of Francis and Clare and about the history of the early Franciscan movement, and there is a lot about those things in here, too. But this is all in the context, and for the purpose, of praying. And then I hope that this Way of Francis, and these ways of praying, will change how people live. If we do prayer right, it can’t help but change how we live.

Sister Julia: What new insight did you discover about the Franciscan saints, yourself or prayer while writing this book?
Jon: I found in Francis and Clare a great deal of silence and solitude. We normally associate them easily with preaching, dance, song, juggling, and charming stories of lives interestingly lived; but when you really get into their prayer habits, you find that silence and solitude were essential to them on a daily basis. We can learn from that, too.

The book was released in February 2020. More information is available here.

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