O Divine Master, grant that I not so much seek...to be understood as to UNDERSTAND. Most of us have prayed what is known as St. Francis' Prayer for Peace. While the Seraphic Patriarch did not compose the text, the thoughts it expresses are perfectly consonant with his life and spirituality.

Most people readily agree that UNDERSTANDING is a good virtue to cultivate, if for no other reason than that most of us have experienced misunderstanding at one time or another. We are not alone! The Gospels offer ample proof that our Lord often experienced misunderstanding, not only from the religious authorities, but also from His townsmen and relatives, and on occasion, even from His disciples. One can almost hear the weariness in Jesus' query to His dull-hearted own: Do you not yet understand? Mark 8:17

Like his Divine Master, St. Francis experienced misunderstanding from many quarters popes and bishops, parents and friends, even his own friars. But the Little Poor Man did not sit down in a puddle of self-pity and whine, "Nobody understands me!" Instead, he set out on the road of UNDERSTANDING, seeking to look deeper into people and situations, words and events. Francis soon discovered (as we all must) that UNDERSTANDING is so important on the spiritual quest that it is not only a human virtue, but also a gift of the Holy Spirit.

I prayed, and UNDERSTANDING was given me, the young Solomon declared. Wis. 7:7 No doubt the young Francis prayed in the same way and history attests that UNDERSTANDING was given to him! And what did the Spirit teach Francis about UNDERSTANDING? First, he realized that on earth, no one is ever perfectly understood except by God. This simple fact freed him from much needless fretting and fuming. The Spirit's second lesson is that on earth no one is able to perfectly understand another person (or, even oneself, for that matter!). But it is precisely humble acknowledgment and acceptance of these facts which open our hearts to receive the Spirit's gift of UNDERSTANDING.  And when we do, wonderful things begin to happen.

When the Holy Spirit grants us UNDERSTANDING, we begin to look at life from God's perspective, which is decidedly wider and deeper than our own. We start to "stand under" people and situations and see that often there is "more than meets the eye," UNDERSTANDING leads us to prayer (especially regarding things we do NOT understand). It is also a gateway to humility, to admitting our limitations, our weakness, and our spiritual blindness. UNDERSTANDING helps us to make room both for the mystery of God and the mystery of others. It helps us to be sensitive, forbearing and self-forgetful, and nothing is more helpful to spiritual growth than these!

 UNDERSTANDING is also the Spirit's "umbrella" over our interior life. It protects us from the pelting rain of criticism. It shields us from the withering rays of resentment and rash judgment. UNDERSTANDING helps us to grow in faith and patience and compassion. We begin to UNDERSTAND what our Lord meant when He told the disciples: What I am doing now you do not know. But later you will understand. John 13:7 Even if that "later" does not come until we cross the threshold of eternal life, we are content because we know HE understands all things and is working everything out for the best. Give me an UNDERSTANDING heart, Solomon pleaded. (cf. 1 King 3:9)  It is never too late to join in his request!



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The Spirits Umbrella

Part 21