The prayer of St Francis in a new context

Just the other day my attention was drawn to one of the prayers of St Francis of Assisi: 

May the power of your love,
Fiery and sweet as honey,
Wean our hearts
From all that is evil.
Grant us to die for the love of your love,
You who were so good as to die
For the love of our love.

Known as the Absorbeat (from the original Latin), I gather that the prayer was probably not written by St Francis – but was certainly used by him. Certainly it is Franciscan in spirit: for over against a church that was significantly corrupted by wealth and immorality, Francis sought to live a simple life focussed on God alone.

This prayer reflecting an amazingly passionate love for God is a challenge for all Christians today. The reality is that many of us love God in moderation. Sadly, it is even possible to be a minister, and still only love God in moderation. Yet if we are to make a difference for Christ, then we need to be passionate. Indeed, according to the German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel, “Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion”. 

As I reflected on this prayer, some words from the Song of Solomon come to mind: “Love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame” (8.6 NRSV). Or as the GNB renders the verse: “Love is as powerful as death; passion is as strong as death itself. It bursts into flame and burns like a raging fire”. These words are echoed in the Church of England’s Eucharistic liturgy: “He [Christ] offered his life for sinners, and with a love stronger than death opened his arms on the cross” (Common Worship, Order One, Eucharistic Prayer G). How does love resemble death? Graeme Watson writes: “Because it may consume us in this life – if we allow it – as fully as death will certainly consume us. For those who yield to it, love does indeed consume like ‘a raging fire’”. Developing the image in the light of Hebrews 12.28-29, he goes on: “A consuming fire destroys what is useless, burns the dross, and refines what has to be cleansed, but also symbolizes the purity and power of love” (The Song of Songs: a contemplative guide, SPCK, London 2014, 118-119).

True love is irresistible, unshakeable, totally resolute. It is for the power of such love we pray. It takes some courage to offer this prayer!

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