Called by a Prayer
Pamela Clare, CSF
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon...
The "Prayer Attributed to St. Francis" played a critical role in my call to the Franciscan life. I'm not sure when I first came across this prayer, but I do know that by the time I was in graduate school, it was my favorite prayer. What I didn't know then was how subversive it would turn out to be!
I had my life all figured out. I had wanted to be an anthropologist since I was in ninth grade. I loved my years at the university studying and then teaching. It was all working out just as I had planned. Except...there was this niggling that became more and more insistent, especially as I continued praying the Prayer of St. Francis. When I found myself impelled by my prayer to find a way to become an instrument of God's peace, I came to San Francisco to join the Community of St. Francis.
When I made my decision to try a Franciscan vocation, I was very aware of the challenge St. Francis presented: to offer myself in loving, risky, vulnerable service to others. This attracted me to the ministry of the Sisters, which focused on the needs of the poor and marginalized.
Upon my arrival in San Francisco in 1978, I found a niche for myself working with Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, a multicultural congregation in the Mission District, which had a special ministry to Native Americans. It seemed a natural use of my experience as an anthropologist. However, the switch from the academic world to the streets of San Francisco almost overwhelmed me. There I was, an "Indian Expert," with nothing to offer the Native American families devastated by alienation, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse. It was my first lesson in the Franciscan vocation: we come with empty hands. Instead of coming to suffering people with our hands full of money and skills and solutions, our hands are often embarrassingly empty. But empty hands are ready to take hold of another hand; empty hands can give or receive; empty hands are naked, revealing our true selves. In this weakness is God's strength. In this poverty is God's richness.
My second lesson in the Franciscan vocation came from the Central American refugees who were coming to Good Samaritan in the 1980s. Many of them had experienced horrible journeys of terror to reach San Francisco from their war-torn countries. Their stories were filled with murder, oppression, violence, rape, torture...and yet, it was these people who ministered to my sense of emptiness and depression over the state of the Native Americans in our congregation. Their hope, generosity in poverty, and sense of God's providence worked to heal me. So my second lesson was the lesson of the mutuality of ministry. I thought I was there to minister to them, to accompany them in their suffering and struggle, but I found it was they who helped me. Empty hands can receive as well as give.
I joined the Franciscans with a hunger to love, worship and serve God, but what I received was the gift of Community, my third lesson in the Franciscan vocation. Life in community is a microcosm of life in the world and in the Reign of God. The daily relating is a school for love. I remember clearly the day that I first captured a glimpse of what religious community meant. I had been with the Franciscans only a short time and had spent part of the day observing the ministry of one of the Sisters. She worked as a hospital chaplain. I was very moved by her ministry and convinced that I was totally incapable of doing such a ministry. While preparing dinner that night, I was musing on the great value of her work and on my own weakness. As I kneaded the bread dough, I came to realize that in preparing a nourishing meal for that Sister, I was enabling her to return to her chaplaincy work the next day. This was my contribution to hospital chaplaincy! Then I began to make connections with the work and ministry of the other Sisters through prayer and our common life together.
In more recent years this lesson has been reinforced by the loving support of one another in sickness and health, joys and sorrows. Not all the service is outward directed in ministry. The family God has given me in the Franciscan community is the principle place in which I work out my vocation daily. St. Francis challenges me to enter into loving relationships with people, to take on his attitude of respectful courtesy, sacramental reverence, compassion and kinship with all creation as a basis for my relationships.
A fourth lesson in the Franciscan vocation relates to where I started--with prayer. Prayer is both compelling and impelling for me. Francis had a thankful, joyful love of God in all creation and an intimate, life-giving relationship with God in Jesus through his prayer. My desire to share in this is at the heart of the compelling aspect of prayer. But as I pursue my desire to know God in nature and in the silence of contemplation, I find myself impelled outward. Prayer is subversive--subversive of my own plans and inclinations. Prayer has changed me from an objective anthropological observer to an active and impassioned participant in the lives of others and in the structures of our society. It has forced me as a shy, introverted, reserved person to risk reaching out to others and to speak out in the face of injustice and sin. But the demands my prayer has made on me have only made me seek it out more. As I take the risky steps--which my prayer requires--in relating and in ministry, I then turn to prayer for the strength to answer the call, and to keep on answering it.
Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is discord, union.
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
And where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love,
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.