The Prayer of St. Francis

A Prayer for the New Year

Yme Woensdregt

I have written before that I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I tend to collect jokes about resolutions: “My New Year’s resolution is to stop procrastinating. I’ll wait until tomorrow to start.” “I was going to quit all my bad habits for the new year, but then I realized that nobody likes a quitter.”

One skeptic has said that “A new year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.” Another has said, “Many people look to the new year for a new start on old habits.”

One of my favourites comes from Jay Leno: “Now there are more overweight people in America than average-weight people. So overweight people are now average. Which means you’ve met your new year’s resolution.”

If we do make resolutions, most of us have a tough time keeping them. Our closets are filled with unkept resolutions. We try to hide them so that we can forget them. They embarrass us … like a relative who picks his nose at the dinner table.

Having said all that, it is also true that day by day, I try to be the best person I can be. I seek inspiration in many different places and from all kinds of people to be a better person. For me, perhaps the primary source of this journey to find my best self is found in my faith.

I fully understand those who say that people of faith have done much harm in the world. In fact, I agree. But as atheist Alain de Botton has remarked, at the same time we cannot turn a blind eye to the good that has come into the world because of religious faith. And I know for a certainty that in my life, faith has made me stronger, kinder, more compassionate, gentler, and more loving.

I’m not perfect. Not by a long shot. Just ask anyone who knows me well! But my faith opens my eyes to seeing the light which peers in through the cracks in my life. That life–giving image comes from Leonard Cohen’s beautiful line, “There is a crack in everything: that’s how the light gets in.” In my brokenness, the light shines into my life. At the same time, because of my faith, I dare to widen those cracks a little so that the light inside me can shine out into the world. It works both ways.

What I’m trying to say with all of this is that while I may not make new year’s resolutions, I do end up making resolutions on a fairly regular basis throughout the year.

That has been particularly true during this past year. We are all glad to see the end of 2020. As I was reflecting on it, I realized that throughout the year I kept asking myself, “I could insist on my rights like so many other people seem to be doing. But what can I do to make this unbearable experience a little easier to bear for other people? How can I be more gentle, more loving, more kind, more compassionate?”

One of the resources which helps me do that is a prayer offered by Pope Francis for World Communications Day in 2018. This Pope took the name Francis to honour St. Francis of Assisi. It reflects his identity as a deeply devout Franciscan priest and bishop. It also honours Francis of Assisi’s care for creation and the poor among us. So it was appropriate that the Pope would paraphrase what has come to be known as the Prayer of St. Francis:

“Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

“Help us to recognize the evil latent in communication that does not build communion.

“Help us to remove the venom from our judgments.

“Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.

“You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:

“Where there is shouting, let us practice listening;

“Where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;

“Where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;

“Where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;

“Where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;

“Where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;

“Where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;

“Where there is hostility, let us bring respect;

“Where there is falsehood, let us bring truth. Amen.”

These words have helped me in this past year to strive to be the kind of person I want to be. They help me understand that I, like every other person on the planet, am called to be an agent of peace, hope, joy, and love in the world.

Here are some ways I try to live it out: even on social media, I try to refrain from shouting and judgment and anger. In the midst of confusion, I seek to find the nugget of truth which can draw us together. I try to be honest and humble in what I say and how I say it. I endeavour to reach out to others and to listen to their opinion, especially if it is different from my own. I search for ways in which I can respect others.

Above all, I try with every ounce of my being to live in such a way that other people feel honoured and welcomed and loved.

That is where my faith leads me.

It is entirely possible to do all of this without religious faith. Of course it is. You don’t have to be religious to be moral or gentle or loving. But for those of us who claim a faith, it becomes all the more urgent to live it out day by day.

This will continue to be my prayer throughout 2021, and in all the years that are left to me.

Yme Woensdregt is a retired Anglican priest living in Cranbrook