Lent is a season for prayer, penance, and almsgiving. It is a time for turning back to God, beginning again, and lifting high the crosses that have been offered to us by the One who created us. It is also a time when we are inspired by the lives and good examples of the saints, our brothers and sisters in faith. It is fitting, then, that we should look to Saint Francis of Assisi for guidance and intercession. In this story from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis, composed and assembled during the fourteenth century, we learn of an unforgettable Lent that Francis spent on a lake located about forty miles from Assisi.
Lent on the Lake – A Story of Saint Francis
As a true servant of the Lord, Francis was like another Christ because he was given to the world for the salvation of souls. In so many ways, God willed that the saint’s actions should be conformed to the image of Christ Jesus, his Beloved Son. We see God’s will at work in the life of Saint Francis, in the lives of his first twelve companions, in the miraculous mystery of his sacred stigmata, and in the beautiful story of his long Lent at Lake Trasimeno.
It happened this way. Francis traveled to a friend’s house which was located near the lake. God called Francis to spend the Lenten Season on a lonely and isolated island in the middle of the lake. Francis prayed that his friend would take him there on Ash Wednesday. Out of great love for the saint, this friend, who is unknown to the annals of history, brought Francis to the island and left him. Francis begged his friend to leave him in silence and solitude until Holy Thursday. After promising to keep secret the Poor Man’s presence on the island, the man departed.
Francis was now alone with God. He brought only two small loaves of bread. Since there was no shelter on the island, Francis retreated into a deep thicket. He created a small hut from reeds and branches. After that, he devoted himself to prayer and contemplation of heavenly things. Francis remained alone with God for the forty days and forty nights of Lent. He ate and drank nothing except for one half of one loaf of bread.
On Holy Thursday, his friend returned to the island and confirmed this truth by finding both loaves of bread: one entire loaf and one half of another loaf. Francis admitted that he fasted out of a humble reverence for the Poor Christ, who fasted for forty days and forty nights without any kind of food. Francis did eat one half of one of the loaves to keep himself from the poison of pride which is so common among those who boast of following the Lord.
After Saint Francis departed, God worked many miracles on the island. People moved there, built homes, and created a community of faith that included a house for the friars. This humble convent was called simply the House of the Island. Even now, those who live on this sacred island possess a strong and humble faith. They have a deep devotion to Saint Francis and an enduring reverence for the thicket where he prayed and fasted as his Savior once prayed and fasted for forty days and forty nights.
A Penitential Psalm – Praying with Francis
Centuries later, we can only imagine how Francis spent his Lent on the lake. We can only imagine the depth of his faith, the intensity of his prayer, and the closeness of his relationship with Jesus. We can be sure, however, that Francis prayed with the Word of God; with the sacred scriptures that brought him closer to Christ, closer to the Church, and closer to the miracle of creation that he felt called to love and praise. When Francis prayed with the psalms, he no doubt prayed with one or more of the so-called penitential psalms. In this spirit, we pray along with him.
In the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Lord, listen to my prayer:
turn your ear to my appeal.
You are faithful, you are just; give answer.
Do not call your servant to judgment
for no one is just in your sight.
The enemy pursues my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead, long forgotten.
Therefore my spirit fails;
my heart is numb within me.
I remember the days that are past:
I ponder all your works.
I muse on what your hand has wrought
and to you I stretch out my hands.
Like a parched land my soul thirst for you.
Lord, make haste and answer;
for my spirit fails within me.
Do not hide your face
lest I become like those in the grave.
In the morning let me know your love
for I put my trust in you.
Make me know the way I should walk;
to you I lift up my soul.
Rescue me, Lord, from my enemies;
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will
for you, O Lord, are my God.
Let your good spirit guide me
in ways that are level and smooth.
For your name’s sake, Lord, save my life;
in your justice save my soul from distress. Amen.
However we pray, whenever we pray, wherever we pray, may we do so with the devotion, humility, and perseverance of Saint Francis of Assisi: today, tomorrow, and always. 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, retreat leader, spiritual director, 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 Assisi Project Podcast! These audio recordings are produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project and our programs and ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff Garvey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2023. All rights reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Art Credit: Photo 100829667 © Massimo Discepoli | Dreamstime.com
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers around 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 by mailing a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project, please contact Cliff Garvey at email@example.com. May the Lord give you peace!
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