Franciscans, following the example of St Francis, try to make prayer and contemplation the soul of all we are and do. St Francis was a living prayer.
Summary of Forms
There are many forms of prayer. The individual person learns from experience which form suits him or her best. In the course of time, we may change our manner of praying many times and even return to earlier forms. And we can use several forms in one day.
In the verbal form of prayer, there is an active, vocal participation in saying a prayer from memory or by reading a text. The prayers that St Francis prayed spontaneously or composed in writing have been collected for his followers, who pray them verbally, especially when we meet with other Franciscans.
St Francis gave much time to meditation on the Old and New Testaments, especially on the text of the Gospels. While meditation appears to be a silent act to the outward observer, inwardly, within the person meditating, it is a very active process. In meditating, an individual is reflecting inwardly on a thought, image or passage from Scripture. The mind and the spirit are actively engaged in meditative prayer.
A simple form of meditation is spiritual reading, which we try to do daily. Just as we take bodily nourishment daily in our meals, so also we feel the need to take spiritual nourishment daily. What we read is not limited to the Scriptures. It may be a book on prayer itself, or on some aspect of the spiritual life, or on the life of Jesus or of a saint.
Verbal prayer and meditation can lead into a simple form of contemplation. We shouldn’t be scared off by such a high-sounding word. Simple contemplation is very much a part of ordinary Christian prayer-life. What, then, is contemplative prayer? It can be considered as a response to the exhortation: "Be still and know that I am God."
God the Supreme Being, the "I Am who I Am" of Exodus 3:14, is always inviting us to meet Him where He is, by simply being quiet in his presence; not thinking, feeling or imagining but simply being, being present to the Lord and to ourselves in silent awareness.
Being with God, resting in His presence, this is the essence of contemplative prayer. While being very simple, contemplative prayer can prove to be very difficult. It is difficult not in itself, but because we are so thoroughly oriented to doing, to being active, rather than to simply being. It’s hard to clear our minds of its preoccupations, to stop planning our next moves.
How do we practise contemplative prayer? To begin, we just sit down, relax and let go of everything. As tensions melt away, we make ourselves aware of God, our loving Father. This increasing awareness of our Father's presence leads to various responses - acceptance, surrender, repentance - which break down our internal barriers and lead to deepening levels of awareness of self and God.
As our intimate awareness increases, praise, thanksgiving and intercession are natural responses to a Creator and Saviour who finds us worthy to share His presence with us as a friend.
Contemplative prayer puts us directly in touch with God in His holy, comforting and healing presence.
For that very reason it can well be subversive, because such prayer is a source of great strength and vital energy. It has the same effect on us as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit had on the Apostles at Pentecost, changing them from fear-filled humans to emboldened evangelizers, intent on spreading the Good News to every corner of the earth. As our source of energy, contemplative prayer is absolutely critical to our success as evangelizers of our world and of our culture.
prayer is a subversive activity because it helps us very effectively to
"put on Christ" (Gal 3, 27). We can say, as did
Carlo Carretto, In Search of the Beyond, has this advice about simple contemplation:
Your heart has been tried by suffering and darkness; now allow it to stop relying on the earth.
Do not think of anything else. God is before you, with you, in you.
Contemplation is not a matter of watching, but of being watched, and God is there
And if God is watching you, he loves you, and in loving you God gives you what you are looking for: himself.
What other gift could there be for one who has searched so hard?
Our heart is so hard to satisfy.
Things can never fill it.
God alone can.