Over the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at the Prayer of St. Francis and thinking about it not only as good fodder for passage meditation, but also as a way to orient our hearts and minds for the day ahead. We started by looking at instruments of peace, then we saw Francis’s prayerful definition of the Kingdom of Heaven and the way in which consoling, understanding, and loving form the foundations for that work. Now, we move on to the final section of the prayer—
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.
As with the previous section, St. Francis plays on opposites here. Want to truly receive? Then give! Want to be pardoned? Then pardon others!
The final line, however, offers up the most jarring example of this—only in death do we find life. While it might be easy to read this as some form of “afterlife” theology in which the person experiences life in Heaven after a bodily death, I don’t think that’s what St. Francis is driving at here. We already saw that Francis is likely building a picture of Heaven as being here and now, accessible already.
What does it mean to die in this sense?
Without going too much into psychology here (paging Drs. Freud and Jung), I’d encourage you to see this death as a death of the EGO or the SELF. In fact, some translations of this prayer read: “…it is in dying to self that we are raised to eternal life.”
The ego is the piece of our personality that is constantly putting itself out there, saying “I want” and “I need.” When we say that someone “has a big ego,” typically we mean that she has a puffed up vision of herself; the world revolves around her because she’s so great!
As humans, wired for survival, we are trained and genetically predisposed to self-protection. This is true not only in life and death situations, but also in emotional situations. We have a desire to protect our psyches from potential harm. So, we build up a version of ourselves that can’t be harmed; we create a reputation or an image.
St. Francis is asking us to deny that piece of us that wants to protect my reputation or my image. Get rid of that thing! Why? As Jesus told us, we can’t serve two masters. If we busy ourselves feeding our egos and constantly crafting and honing our reputations—a phenomenon even more real now in the era of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat—then we fail to take hold of the eternal life, Heaven, that is right here and right now. We are so busy taking care of our ego, that we don’t bring Heaven to Earth. The ultimate call of the Christian is to love God and love humans (including ourselves). We can’t live out that call if we are distracted by the intentional crafting of an external personality for others to consume.
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As you go about this week, think about the ways in which you are crafting or cultivating a sense of self for others to consume. Why are you doing it? Is it a distraction from what really matters? Is it keeping you from giving to others or pardoning them?