Serenade to St. Francis
by John Niemet, Covenant Companion
Events that appear to have taken place haphazardly often become a personal spiritual message. They are a beautiful reminder that God has a sense of humor. I believe a heavenly Spirit can bring wonder into my life.
In first connecting with the Wheaton Franciscan community, I formed a desire to follow in the way of St. Francis. I related to him. He was a singer. I was curious and felt the need to find a song set to his words: A truly beautiful Franciscan composition. Then came….
“Canticle of Brother Sun” composed by Malcolm Hill
This music became a focal point for my spiritual development. It evolved into a prayerful companion. My experience in The Franciscan Way of Life course now felt more genuine and aligned with who I wished to become. I was singing and living the words of Francis of Assisi.
Could I sing in Italy?
In Fall 2022, I was honored to participate in a pilgrimage to Assisi with the Wheaton Franciscans. During a blessing ceremony at Our Lady of the Angels Motherhouse prior to our departure, I was exhorted by Sister Rosie to “sing my heart out in Assisi.” There was only one problem: I was suffering from a severe cold that affected my breathing, my speaking voice, and most noticeably my ability to sing.
What, indeed, was mine to do? For me, good singing on this marvelous trip seemed to be out of the question. It was all very frustrating.
While I was in Italy I was struck with a profound sense of peace in the birthplace of St. Francis. We visited many churches filled with quiet serenity where I prayed within the sacred atmosphere of their spaces. In walking on Assisi pathways with my fellow pilgrims, I had the idea of offering a musical gift to the group: A song which might capture the spirit of St. Francis, a melody which seemed to be vibrating within all of us.
And then came…the San Rufino experience.
We came to the Cathedral of San Rufino to visit, pray, and reflect upon the baptisms of Francis and Clare. Before we departed, it was decided to sing a favorite song together: “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” I was ready to try out my faltering voice. In the end, I was able to contribute to the group’s effort, while making the song a satisfying experience. Eyes of some of my fellow pilgrims widened when they heard my returning voice, saying, “Hey, John is back!”
I was blessed by the privilege of offering the canticle in the most sacred of Franciscan locations: The Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Offering this song as a closing to our Mass at the tomb of St. Francis was an immense honor for me. It expressed my gratitude for being in Assisi, so thankful for the many blessings received on this pilgrimage.
My singing of the canticle was the finale of a rare spiritual adventure as well as an uncertain health experience. From Sister Rosie’s encouraging words to Rita’s assistance to the Spirit’s healing, all puzzle pieces came together as part of God’s plan. I shall always treasure this moment of music and community with my fellow Franciscans!
“Praise and bless my Lord. Thank Him and serve Him with great humility.”Excerpt from “Canticle of Brother Sun” based on the words of St. Francis of Assisi.