By Cliff Garvey
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read this about the Communion of Saints: “The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayers today. They contemplate God, praise him, and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were ‘put in charge of many things.’ Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world (CCC 2683).”
Think about your favorite saint, your patron saint, your go-to saint; the saint you turn to during times of trial; the saint you turn to when you don’t know where else to turn; the saint you believe in your heart can and has worked miracles in your life. Now think about this. Pope Francis says: “The saints, who often count for little in the eyes of the world, are in reality the ones who sustain it, not with the weapons of money and power, but with the weapon of prayer (11-1-21).” My guess is that at some point in their lives on this earth, all of the saints were despised, rejected, or alienated in some way. They were poor and powerless in the ways of the world: money, prestige, and influence. Perhaps people thought he was crazy. Perhaps people thought she was lying. Perhaps people didn’t understand them. Perhaps people just refused to believe.
And yet, these saints, our saints, carry the burdens of the world: our arguments and illnesses; our failings and frustrations; our broken dreams and diminished hopes; our lost keys and curse words in traffic. The saints revel in our celebrations. They see our tears. They feel our pain. They hear our prayers. They shoulder our cares and concerns. And they lift them all up to the heavens. Lord, these little ones need you! Help them! Heal them! Rescue them! Save them! Have mercy on them!
Listen again to Pope Francis: “The saints, who often count for little in the eyes of the world, are in reality the ones who sustain it, not with the weapons of money and power, but with the weapon of prayer.” The Holy Father says that the saints sustain the world by their prayers. To sustain is to maintain, support, and prop up. To sustain is to help, comfort, and encourage. To sustain is to persevere, forge ahead, and keep things going. When we ask Saint Anthony, for example, to find our car keys or debit card, we are asking him to help us get things back on track — because we’re late for an appointment, because there’s a long line behind us at the cash wrap, because if we can’t find this or that, our lives during this one frenzied moment will careen off course and collapse! Or so we think.
One last time, listen to Pope Francis: “The saints, who often count for little in the eyes of the world, are in reality the ones who sustain it, not with the weapons of money and power, but with the weapon of prayer.” Did Pope Francis really say the weapon of prayer? Yes, I looked it up in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and even Arabic. The weapon of prayer. This doesn’t sound right. Aren’t we called to be instruments of peace? After all, a weapon is a thing designed and used to gain advantage, inflict bodily harm, or cause physical damage. At best, a weapon is about self-interest. At worst, it’s about conflict and outright violence. How is that prayer? And when we look up weapon in a thesaurus, no good synonyms exist. Instead, here’s what we find: bomb, bayonet, battle ax, dart, dagger, flamethrower, gun, spear, and brass knuckles. An inventory of actual weapons! Try to imagine Saint Francis carrying a switchblade in self-defense; or Saint Clare aiming a sling-shot at saracen invaders; or Saint Anthony pointing a pistol in anger. It doesn’t work.
So, what does Pope Francis mean when he says that the saints sustain the world with the weapon of prayer? He means, I think, that we are engaged in a real tug-of-war, a real contest, a real battle: between light and darkness, between the Holy Spirit and the bad spirit, between the things of heaven and the things of earth. The stakes are high. Our souls are at stake. The eternal souls of the people we love are at stake.
Thomas of Celano lived from 1185 until 1260. He knew Saint Francis of Assisi; heard him preach; observed him living a gospel life; and spent time with his closest friends and followers. Thomas wrote perhaps the most beautiful and spiritually thought provoking biographies of the Poor Man of Assisi. In one book, the so-called Second Life, Thomas of Celano explains that Francis was deeply devoted to the saints that we call the archangels: Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and Saint Raphael. Celano writes: “Saint Francis venerated most affectionately the angels who are with us on the field of battle and who walk with us in the midst of the shadow of death. We should venerate these companions, who are always with us, and we should call upon them as our guardians (Celano, Second Life, 197).” This field of battle is the battle for souls. In this battle, we are the soldiers and the prize. We are the warriors and the prisoners of war. And our souls are the swag, the spoils of real spiritual warfare. It is the weapon of prayer — our poor prayers and the prayers of all the angels and saints — who support and sustain our side in this timeless contest for souls. Without them, where would we be? We would be lost.
During his long formation with the Society of Jesus, Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) wrote many letters to his family and friends. In May 1960, he wrote these words to his eleven year old sister, Maria Elena: “I want you to be a saint. Why don’t you try it. We really need so many saints.” He then wrote: “I know it’s an effort, but your prayer would be like the slow drizzle of winter that when it falls on the land, makes it fertile, makes it bear fruit (Quoted in The Great Reformer by Austen Ivereigh, page 70).” These words, written by a future pope to his young sister, reconcile the bitterness of spiritual warfare with the sweetness of prayer. Just think about the sublime power of prayer as a channel for love, kindness, fraternity, and mutual support during troubled times. Think about the dynamic power of prayer to heal wounds, bind what is broken, bring home those who are lost, and ultimately help save souls. It is so beautiful. It is simply breathtaking.
Pope Francis says: “Blessed be Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world, together with this immense flowering or saintly men and women who populate the earth and make their lives a hymn to God (11-1-21).” We are so poor. We are so small. We really need more saints — the everyday saints who live among us and the eternal saints whose prayers sustain our suffering world. And finally, let us join the chorus of prayer offered up by the angels and saints, so that on the last day, we may hear a celestial voice that says to us:
You have now come to Mount Zion,
and to the heavenly Jerusalem.
This is the city of the living God,
where thousands and thousands of angels
have come to celebrate.
Here you will find all of God’s dearest children,
whose names are written in heaven.
And you will find God himself,
who judges everyone.
Here also are the spirits of those good people
who have been made perfect.
And Jesus is here!
He is the one who makes
God’s new agreement with us,
and his sprinkled blood
says much better things than the blood of Abel
Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us! Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us! Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
About the Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation. Thank you for listening to The Weapon of Prayer. These audio recordings are produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project: A Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit and our ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Art Credit: Dreamstime | Rawpixelimages
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or AmazonSmile (links below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project and our upcoming opportunities for formation, prayer, and pilgrimage, please contact Cliff Garvey at email@example.com. May the Lord give you peace!
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