Monday, February 22, 2010

The St. Francis / St. Clare Prayer Book

Sweeney, Jon M. The St. Clare Prayer Book: Listening for God's Leading. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2007. $14.95

_____. The St. Francis Prayer Book: A Guide to Deepen Your Spiritual Life. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2004 15.95

These two prayer books are similarly formatted, along two different themes. They contain an introduction and biographical chapter that commend the life and witness of Francis and Clare of Assisi, followed by short offices (prayer services). The offices can each be prayed slowly and meditatively in ten to fifteen minutes. There is one separate morning prayer and one evening prayer office for each of seven days, and a quick compline (night prayer) that's the same for each night. Each day includes collects (set prayers) quotations, and Scripture readings that enlarge upon a particular theme in the spiritual life.

In the St. Francis volume, these are themes in Franciscan spirituality:
  • Following Christ
  • Disregard for possessions
  • Peace and care in human relationships
  • Love for all creatures
  • Preaching the Good News
  • Passion more important than learning
  • Joyful simplicity
The St. Clare volume is oriented toward discernment, or "listening prayer":
  • Embracing Christ
  • Purity
  • Walking the path of conversion
  • Listening with the heart
  • Adoring Christ
  • True discipleship
  • Redefining family
What I Like. It's important that a breviary (book of short prayers) be accessible and easy to use. While they are paperbacks, they are well bound and attractively designed. The type is reasonably large and the different sections are easy to read. Finding one's place requires only to know what day of the week it is, and the prayer offices require no flipping back and forth. They are also very attractively priced.

What I Don't Like. It is a common poetic device of Franciscans to thank God in all circumstances by offering prayer of praise to Lady Poverty, et al. You know, like Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and all of that. I don't imagine that Francis, Clare, or any of the Order's members suppose there to be an actual heavenly persona named Poverty, whom we would care to address in real terms. I understand the poetic device and find it pleasant. Christian prayer, however, is addressed to the Father, with the Son, through the Holy Spirit (leaving aside the question of intercessions to departed Saints). The Psalms seem to entreat Creation to praise God along with the worshippers, but when I'm teaching beginning disciples to prayer, I don't want to have to go through the trouble of explaining/defending that particular literary device.

Bottom line: The introductory material provides an excellent popular account of these Christian saints and their contributions to the spiritual life of the wider Church. The book itself is easy to use for prayers, aesthetically attractive, and well-priced. If you don't mind the aforementioned literary device, these volumes are an excellent gateway to the practice of regular structured prayer as well as Franciscan Christian spirituality.

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