Members of the Cathedral community share how they put St. Francis’ famous words into action
It’s one of the most famous prayers in all of Christianity, attributed to the original Franciscan monk, St. Francis of Assisi, who is most often known as the patron saint of animals and the environment.
The Prayer of St. Francis describes a world—and a state of being—that is often the one we strive for but rarely see. Where there is hatred, we instead find love; where there is injury, pardon. It describes an active faith, one that is shaped and reshaped and constantly striving toward perfection.
It’s also incredibly hard to put into practice.
Dean Randy Hollerith chose the Prayer of St. Francis as the framework for the Cathedral’s life and worship throughout October as the nation headed toward Election Day. Soon after the blessing of the animals that celebrates St. Francis’ love for all living things, we launched The St. Francis Project by asking different members of the Cathedral community to share how they put St. Francis’ famous words into action.
In 2013 I was deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, as an Army Chaplain and made the Prayer of St. Francis the prayer for my Sustainment Brigade. I’m a Baptist minister; so, it was the first time I connected with the prayer and made it part of my daily devotion and prayer life.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” resonated with me immediately. America’s military was in a foreign country, the way ahead was uncertain, and it was the third time I would spend a year away from my wife and children. I craved the peace of Jesus Christ when the situation around me was so unsettling and dangerous.
I prayed St. Francis’ Prayer with soldiers concerned about their marriage. Nine months away is never good for a marriage or a family, and soldiers often expressed doubt and despair about their marriage surviving and their children growing. We prayed for faith to triumph over doubt and for hope to overcome despair.
While we were deployed, two soldiers in my brigade took their own lives in the midst of darkness and personal trouble. At their memorial ceremonies, fellow soldiers and leaders wondered if they could have done something differently. The Prayer of St. Francis helped as we asked that the Lord to give light and joy to the our soldiers and to the loved ones at home. Soldiers struggle with darkness and sadness, and the hope of our Lord Jesus Christ offers light and joy to meet our deepest sense of need and purpose.
This prayer supported my brigade and helped soldiers and family members cope when easy answers were hard to find. May the Lord fill our souls with peace, and may we each have the courage to be instruments of peace in our communities.
Lt. Colonel Chris Wallace 3rd Infantry Division Chaplain, U.S. Army
Member of the Cathedral’s Veterans and Military Advisory Committee
In 1995, before I was a priest, I worked at an association and left to start my own business. The real reason I left was betrayal. I won’t go into details. Suffice it to say that I was deeply wounded by people I’d thought were friends.
I carried a lot of anger around about this for years. With a true friend and spiritual advisor, I worked through the grief that accompanied the anger. I chose to confront the betrayer—not for vengeance but for closure. I forgave them. I affirmed that I still cared about the organization. I understood that it was time for us to move in different directions.
Here’s what I learned: Letting go of that anger let me breathe again. The amount of energy it took to stay angry took its toll, and forgiving gave me back my health. The absence of hate helped me remember to be thankful.
It is much less stressful to focus on caring and loving instead of vengeance and hate. It’s better for my health, and a better use of my time, to sow love and remind people of the benefits of forgiveness.
Forgive others. Forgive yourself. Accept forgiveness from others and from God. Breathe again.
The Rev. Cricket Park Rector, Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Bethesda, Md.
My daughter, Carmen, had a quote on her bedroom wall in Parkland, Fla., that relates to the Prayer of St. Francis:
When it’s dark, look for stars. When it rains, look for rainbows.
On Valentine’s Day 2018, Carmen was murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. On that day and many days after, I have seen dark days and I understand despair. I have also lost hope and I have questioned my faith.
When days and times are difficult, I find places that are quiet. Those dark and quiet times are when I seem to better see Carmen’s face, hear her silly laugh, or feel her close by. Through the darkness, God reminds me of the 16 wonderful years Carmen shined here on earth.
When moments are sad and tearful, I look to others for help. Support from family, friends and, sometimes, strangers, is God’s way of showing me I am not alone. Working with others to make changes that will prevent the same tragedy from happening to other families gives me hope. These connections are the rainbows that help me out of my despair.
I still have instances where I question why God did not save Carmen. And in the same breath, I thank Him for bringing my other daughter safely home from school that day. With God’s help, I will do what I can to honor Carmen’s life so the world will be better than it was the day she died.
April spoke, along with her husband Philip Schentrup, at the Cathedral’s March for Our Lives prayer vigil in 2018 following a school shooting that killed her daughter, Carmen.
Darkness can come in many forms, sometimes fast, sometimes creeping slowly. Ours came at warp speed and was all-encompassing when our son, Matthew, was brutally murdered 22 years ago simply for being gay.
One minute we were a family of four, the next, we were three. We were experiencing so many emotions – anger, confusion, grief and a sense of emptiness — all at once.
As time passes, light finds a way, in many ways, sometimes fast, sometimes creeping slowly. Our light was family and friends, both known and unknown. We had found a new community who loved without judgement and welcomed us with open arms.
Darkness, however, is never far away. Darkness demands your attention, but after seeing the light you can leave the darkness where it is and not embrace it.
Sadness is present every day. It is an ache, an emptiness, a loss of what you thought your life would be. Maybe sadness is a recovery from darkness; that recovery may well last the rest of your days. However, you can be sad and still function. Functioning is surviving your darkness and your sadness. Functioning is finding a purpose to still be present.
The next step is the joy you find from serving your purpose, from helping others in a way that speaks to your heart. Everyone is going through their own particular pain. You may not see it—they may not want to talk about it but it is there. Joy is especially welcome when sadness has been your overriding emotion.
Even joy can be interrupted by an unexpected memory – a scent, a song, even a shadow can awaken the sadness. But now you know you can survive it. You can even embrace the memories, feel the sadness and return to joy.
Gay rights activist and mother of Matthew Shepard, who was interred at the Cathedral in 2018, 20 years after his murder that galvanized the gay rights movement
A decade ago, my world shattered with the suicide of my brother. Unthinkably, just months later, one of my dearest friends ended his life using a gun.
Loss from suicide is devastating. The grief was paralyzing, and a sense of guilt consumed me. As a nurse, I berated myself—what could I have done to prevent their deaths? Why did my friend have access to guns while in such a state of despair? I retreated into a very dark place.
But one day, the words “wounded healer” nudged me. This concept, developed by theologian Henri Nouwen, challenged and charged me: “As followers of Jesus,” he wrote, “we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.”
His guidance to put our faith into action for others provided a roadmap away from my own need for sympathy and consolation. Among other actions, he suggests that people of faith champion social justice for others.
Through pastoral care, nursing interventions and volunteerism, my faith has led me to become engaged in suicide awareness and prevention. My leadership in Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has provided a means to faithfully act to prevent deaths and injuries from gun violence.
What I found is that my wounds gave birth to my activism. And activism consoles others.
Mary Wright Baylor Member of the Cathedral congregation, pastoral care nurse and anti-violence activist
These words take me back to a simple song my mother taught my siblings and me as children: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
She would regularly sing this to us. She wanted it to become a part of our consciousness. She wanted us to be able to recall it whenever we needed to be reminded of it.
That was important to her because she knew the world would not always treat her four children with the love and respect that we deserved as sacred children of God. She realized that because of our black bodies, our worth would be diminished and for many, our lives would not matter.
My mother taught us that song to teach us about Jesus’ love. She wanted us to know that no matter how the world treated us, Jesus loved us—and that our lives mattered. In the most trying of times, I have recalled, and sung, the words of this song to get me through.
It is Jesus’ love for me that inspires me to try and love as Jesus loves, and to do all that I can to create a world that loves as Jesus loves. Especially for all those children whose bodies are black.
And so, I pray: O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek . . . to be loved as to love.
The Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas Canon Theologian, Washington National Cathedral Dean, Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary
This prayer always reminds me of my maternal grandparents. They lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. They survived some rough times and they knew quite a bit about pain and loss, yet they lived as people of hope and joy. They had a deep and abiding love for each other, fueled by an unshakable faith in God.
In terms of wealth and possessions they really had very little, but to be with them was to realize they had everything. They taught me that the only way to build a good life is to give your life away in service to others. To this day I aspire to be like them, and the example of their lives still serves as a guide to my own.
The world is so crazy right now. We are in the middle of a pandemic and the fabric of our nation is strained in ways many of us have never experienced. We are divided one from another and common ground seems increasingly hard to find.
What do we do? How do we make our way through this time?
For starters, we double down on our core values exemplified so perfectly in the Prayer of St. Francis. We build peace. We sow love. We strengthen faith. We offer forgiveness. And we live as people of hope.
I like to think we do what my grandparents did: focus on the light and remember what Jesus showed us: that even in sadness there can be deep joy.
How do we make our way through this time? We fight the fear by putting whatever little bits of good into the universe that we can. We give of ourselves, even when so many around us seem intent on taking, even when it feels like we have so little to give. St. Francis reminds us: In giving, we receive.
And most of all: we remember that, come what may, God will never let us go, either in this life or in the next.
The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith Dean, Washington National Cathedral