By NEMS Daily Journal
During Lent one of the big stumbling blocks every observant person of faith runs into is the necessity of letting go of individual empowerment.
It’s not easy to take hold of that idea because empowerment is one of the chief goals of 21st century life.
On the one hand, empowering marginalized people – those with HIV/AIDS, the poor, the hungry, the jobless, the homeless, victims of color and ethnic discrimination, common people who have not one cent of the wealth held by the much-discussed 1 percent – is not the kind of power that cripples people.
On the other hand, power for the sake of making other people less powerful is the more common and ultimately dangerous kind of self-serving mindset that blocks most people seeking to become penitents. Losing self-aggrandizing power requires even more intentionality than becoming powerful.
Almost everyone in Western culture knows the name Francis of Assisi. His personal story has been romanticized into popular literature and film as one who had it all but gave it all up to become good. That’s right as far it goes.
In fact, the Francis of history removed himself from the 1 percent financially, socially, culturally and materially – to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. He walked the walk. He didn’t merely sympathize, he became one of the poorest of the poor.
The details of that first life are largely lost. But at age 23, he began writing the autobiographical life of self-denial for others that would lead to canonization and the founding of a holy order, the Franciscans, bearing his name.
However, it is the legacy of his prayers that reveal the inner light of faith that displaced the selfish lesser god he once followed. Among the most famous of his prayers is a canticle filled with hope and caring for creature and creation, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”:
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor and all blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.
Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.
Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon
for love of You and bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
By You Most High, they will be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.
Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.
That prayer of a powerless man has endured for 800 years, as fresh and winsome as if written this morning.