Book Review: The St. Francis Holy Fool Prayer Book by Jon Sweeney

There’s a little book on St. Francis I’ve been dipping into lately. No, I don’t mean the Little Flowers of Saint Francis, but good guess!

I mean Jon Sweeney’s delightful The St. Francis Holy Fool Prayer Book that I’ve kept on my desk for the past couple weeks just to sample from like a candy box when I’m in between tasks or waiting for a response or some such.

So many of our devotionals and prayer books can emphasize the need for effort, for discipline, for my utmost for his highest, which at times feels like a constant strain, which we have so much of in the rest of our lives. But here is an invitation to holy foolishness, with a reminder that St. Paul emphasized those were “fool’s for Christ’s sake.”

There’s levity here.

But we’re also reminded of the serious foolishness of humility, of being mocked and ridiculed and spat upon, as Christ was during his passion. To intentionally cultivate humility to such a radical degree is a kind of divine madness.

In this little book, we get a sense of the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi in a few short brushstrokes along with a little structured daily office for Holy Fools intended for a week’s time, perfect for Holy Week (get on that!), a selection of Occasional Prayers for Holy Fools, and some brief stories about Saint Francis.

The book serves as an excellent and accessible introduction to Franciscan spirituality with practical exercises and reflections to help you enter that space. Though applicable for individual use, this would be especially helpful to sample for small groups, retreat reflections, or to open a Bible study with some short, delightful reflections.

There’s both a simplicity and power to the book and its exercises that enacts the simplicity of Francis in the world. It provides a genuine lightness as a corrective to some of the more heavy-handed readings in the liturgical tradition but also substance and focus.

Here’s a reading from the Preparation section of one of the seven daily offices:

I want to serve You, God,
and I think I know what to do.
What I need is courage, persistence,
and a touch of folly,
to get it done.
Make me conscious of You at my
side today. Amen.

As I’ve been going through the process of becoming accepted into a lay Franciscan community recently among some personal and family hardship, some of these short readings have been helpful to become spiritually realigned and receptive to the movings of God and the Spirit in a gentle way.

In short reflections, I had a chance to be reminded that God’s here. It’s ok. Let me be intentional about my own disposition of humility and service. Let’s go.

Going Further

Jon Sweeney’s The St. Francis Holy Fool Prayer Book and The St. Francis Prayer Book

Richard Rohr on Franciscan Mysticism

Jon Sweeney speaks on When St. Francis Saved The Church

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