For the sake of clarity - I'm going to aim to do a line of the prayer each day (on any given day there could be additional posts unrelated to this particular focus). When I say cover, it certainly isn't meant to imply, that this is the definitive examination of his prayer - it represents my current understanding combined with any inspiration in the moment. There are most certainly, more learned than I, that have written and studied comprehensively, on the life and work of Francis.
This first post will offer a little background on my relationship with Francis. Yes I'm suggesting a relationship exists. One of considerable longstanding as it turns out. First of all I will mention I am not Catholic. The family I was raised in (adopted) were Anglican by affiliation. Though it was not a particularly "religious" household. So I both attended Anglican church when I was young and was sent to a Catholic elementary school - it was thought, I'd get a better education there, with the smaller class sizes etc.
So I suppose it's safe to say I was influenced by both Churches to some extent. I don't happen to believe that one must be Catholic to consider Francis their guide. I'm quite sure "he" doesn't care at all. I don't believe the Catholics have the monopoly on any of the beings they have deemed "saints."
Mother Mary is a significant presence in my life as well. Both relationships are largely absent the theology of Catholicism. Which many in their ranks, would likely say is not possible. I say, my relationship with Francis, Mary and Jesus (for that matter), are none of their business.
It was many years after my attendance at "St. Joesph's school, that I was reminded and made aware, that one of my favourite "songs;" I liked to sing, when I was allowed to tag along, with all the Catholic kids and attend their Mass; as it turns out, was based on the words of Francis' prayer.
I was to be reintroduced to that prayer, in my late twenties when I entered into A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous) - I'm not in breach of the "anonymity" principle; each is allowed to shroud themselves or "break their anonymity" as they choose. I would never break that of any other member. I don't actually attend those meetings anymore, my spirituality stems from a variety of other sources. That program (including that prayer at that time went on to save my life).
This reacquainting with Francis was very comforting and the words of his prayer took on a vastly deeper and more power meaning. I believe I could live out the rest of my life, trying to live up to directives in the prayer. Still later in my life, I was traveling in Europe for my first time. I had decided to join some friends in Italy for a couple yoga retreats (then and now, I have vast untapped yoga potential) - but I was over there and the idea of connecting with this beautiful group of people and in Italy, over-rode my "performance anxiety." I was traveling through the Balkan countries and stayed 3 nights in Split, Croatia (there was an over night ferry from there to go across to Italy).
No sooner had I checked my bags into my B&B room and started to explore the town - the first church I was drawn to go through turned out to be "the Church of St. Francis". The first of the two yoga retreats was to be in a small town called Spoleto... it was only an hour away from Assisi, so I spent 3 nights in that city and two more in Perugia. My experiences while there, were very profound. I prayed at the tomb of St. Francis and St. Clare. Sat in the church he "rebuilt." Walked in the woods and hills where he may have roamed.
When I checked into a hotel in Spoleto (having arrived there a few days before the retreat started) my room was at the Hotel Clarici ("Clare" - who renounced her life to follow in the steps of Francis and went on to create the "Poor Clares" - the order of St. Clare a contemplative order of nuns) a women working at the desk that was very helpful getting me settled and oriented (her name was Francesca - the feminine form of "Francis.."
I was also to meet another women by the same name. She and her friends drove me back to the venue one night (early a.m.) after I had got separated from my retreat group. She owned a pizza restaurant in town and was very hospitable toward me while I was in town after the retreat.
It is through these experiences and many more that I realize the "presence" of Francis has been around me most of (maybe all of) my life; in direct ways and some more subtle - I have been taken care of and guided.
I don't believe you need to be a religious person at all in order to connect with the spirit of any of the world's "historic" characters. I'd say it's a easy as beginning any new friendship - start by saying hello.
In this case I also believe that the tenets of this prayer provide me with a "road map" for a life time of character development and spiritual growth.
I include the prayer here for any that might not be familiar with it and as something to refer to as I work my way through it's vision.