Praising, he led others to praise. This phrase from the 13th century liturgical Office honoring St. Francis of Assisi highlights an essential aspect of the Little Poor Man's mission —leading people to the praise of God. It was not something that the merchant's son planned or foresaw. Rather, his vocation as a leader and teacher of praise unfolded gradually, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The first person St. Francis led to the praise of God was himself. Perhaps he who so loved the psalms began by making his own an invitation to praise, such as the opening line of Psalm 103: 0 bless the Lord, my soul! From there unfolded a Seraphic lifetime of blessing, praising and thanking God for an unending array of gifts, graces, benefits and blessings.

Because God blesses the human heart, it can in turn bless the One who is the Source of every blessing. Blessing expresses the basic movement of Christian prayer: it is an encounter between God and man. In blessing, God's gift and man's acceptance of it are united in dialogue with each other. The prayer of blessing is man's response to God's gifts.  Catechism 2645, 2626

While it is not known how well Francis counted coins in his father's shop, there is no doubt that he excelled in the art of counting God's blessings. He did this so well, in fact, that he needed an army of "blessing counters" to assist-him — birds and beasts, fish and friars, popes and paupers. Everything reminded the Little Poor Man of God's goodness; everything invited him to bless the Lord with all his heart, all his soul, all his strength.

The Seraphic Father blessed God for His goodness in the history of the human family and in his own personal history. Francis was practiced enough in the art of blessing God that he looked forward with gratitude to all that God would do for him —an art taken up and developed by his 20th century Capuchin son, Venerable Solanus Casey, who used to advise people to thank God ahead of time for answers to prayer.

But Francis also aligned himself with the psalmist who blessed God for His here-and-now benefits: He forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, fills, renews. Francis found God, so to speak, in the present tense -- at work in the NOW of his life, gracing him, loving him and healing him in this event, in this joy, in this heartbreak. Confession, Communion and reading Scripture became for St. Francis vibrant, grace-filled encounters with the living God who forgives, feeds, instructs and sanctifies.

This way of blessing God in the present tense is open to everyone. It widens the horizons of heart and prayer. It makes the word of God which is Psalm 103 a living and active reality. It creates sensitive, grateful people, who are ever on the look-out for God-at-work. And, it ensures that we, like Francis, are counted among those who never forget all His blessings.

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God in the Present Tense!

My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
all my being, bless His Holy Name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord,

and never forget all His blessings.

It is He who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love and compassion,
who fills your life with good things,
renewing your youth like an eagle's.

The Lord does deeds of justice,
gives judgment for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses
and His deeds to Israel's sons.

Psalm 103