Prayer of Saint Francis
The anonymous text that is usually called the Prayer of Saint Francis (or Peace Prayer, or Simple Prayer for Peace, or Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace) is a widely known Christian prayer for peace. Often associated with the Italian Saint Francis of Assisi (c. 1182 – 1226), but entirely absent from his writings, the prayer in its present form has not been traced back further than 1912. Its first known occurrence was in French, in a small spiritual magazine called La Clochette (The Little Bell), published by a Catholic Church organization in Paris named La Ligue de la Sainte-Messe (The League of the Holy Mass). The author’s name was not given, although it may have been the founder of La Ligue, Father Esther Bouquerel. The prayer was heavily publicized during both World War I and World War II. It has been frequently set to music by notable songwriters and quoted by prominent leaders, and its broadly inclusive language has found appeal with diverse faiths encouraging service to others.
In most of the published versions of the prayer, the text is abridged, paraphrased, and/or copyrighted. Below is the complete original text from its earliest known publication (1912, in French, copyright expired), alongside a line-by-line English translation.
The Franciscan Order does not include the prayer in its official “Prayers of St. Francis”, and a church historian has noted that the phrasing of the first half of the text (“let me…”) is atypically self-oriented for Francis:
The most painful moment usually comes when [students] discover that Saint Francis did not write the “Peace Prayer of Saint Francis”… Noble as its sentiments are, Francis would not have written such a piece, focused as it is on the self, with its constant repetition of the pronouns “I” and “me”, the words “God” and “Jesus” never appearing once.
However, the prayer has been recommended by members of the order, while not attributing it to St. Francis.
It has been noted that the second half of the prayer has similarities to this saying of Giles of Assisi (c. 1190 – 1262), one of the saint’s close companions:
Aurea Verba Beati Aegidii Assiensis
Beatus ille qui amat, & non-deſiderat amari:
beatus ille qui timet, & non deſiderat timeri:
beatus ille qui ſervit, & non deſiderat ſibi ſerviri:
beatus ille bene ſe gerit erga alios, et non ut alii ſe bene gerant erga ipſum:
& quia hæc magna ſunt, ideo ſtulti ad ea non attingunt.
Golden Sayings of Blessed Giles of Assisi
Blessed is he who loves and does not therefore desire to be loved;
Blessed is he who fears and does not therefore desire to be feared;
Blessed is he who serves and does not therefore desire to be served;
Blessed is he who behaves well toward others and does not desire that others behave well toward him;
And because these are great things, the foolish do not rise to them.
Sebastian Temple (1967)
The most-prominent hymn version of the prayer is “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace”, or simply “Prayer of St. Francis”, adapted and set to a chant-like melody in 1967 by South African songwriter Sebastian Temple (Johann Sebastian von Tempelhoff, 1928–1997), who had become a third order Franciscan. The hymn is an anthem of the Royal British Legion and is usually sung at its annual Festival of Remembrance. In 1997 it was part of the Funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, and was performed by the Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor on the Princess Diana tribute album. The hymn was also sung for the religious wedding ceremony of Prince Albert II of Monaco to South African Charlene Wittstock in 2011.
Additional settings of the prayer by notable musicians include those by:
- Arthur Bliss
- Maire Brennan
- The Burns Sisters
- F.R.C. Clarke
- René Clausen
- Bing Crosby – recorded November 4, 1954 for the cause of Father Junípero Serra.
- Dream Theater
- John Foley
- Marc Jordan
- Singh Kaur
- Snatam Kaur
- Matt Maher
- Mary McDonald
- Sarah McLachlan
- A Ragamuffin Band
- John Rutter
- John Michael Talbot
Christian Renoux, a history professor at the University of Orléans, published in French in 2001 a book-length study of the prayer and its origins, clearing up much of the confusion that had accumulated previously. The Franciscan journal Frate Francesco and the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published articles in Italian summarizing the book’s findings, and Renoux published an online abstract in English at The Franciscan Archive.
La Clochette (1912)
The earliest known record of the prayer is its appearance, as a “beautiful prayer to say during Mass”, in the December 1912 issue of the small devotional French Catholic publication La Clochette, “the bulletin of the League of the Holy Mass”. Although the prayer was published anonymously, Renoux concluded that, with few exceptions, the texts in La Clochette were generally written by its founding editor, Father Esther Bouquerel (1855–1923).
Mistaken attribution (1916) to 11th-century William the Conqueror
In 1915, Marquis Stanislas de La Rochethulon (1862–1945), founding president of the Anglo-French association Souvenir Normand (Norman Remembrance), which called itself “a work of peace and justice inspired by the testament of William the Conqueror, who is considered to be the ancestor of all the royal families of Europe”, sent this prayer to Pope Benedict XV in the midst of World War I. The Pope had an Italian translation published on the front page of L’Osservatore Romano on 20 January 1916. It appeared under the heading, “The prayers of ‘Souvenir Normand’ for peace”, with a jumbled explanation: “‘Souvenir Normand’ has sent the Holy Father the text of some prayers for peace. We have pleasure in presenting in particular the prayer addressed to the Sacred Heart, inspired by the testament of William the Conqueror.”On 28 January 1916, the newspaper La Croix reprinted, in French, the article from L’Osservatore Romano, with exactly the same heading and explanation. La Rochethulon wrote to La Croix to clarify that it was not a prayer of Souvenir Normand; but he failed to mention La Clochette, the first publication in which it had appeared. Because of its appearance in L’Osservatore Romano and La Croix as a simple prayer for peace during World War I, the prayer became widely known
Mistaken attribution (c.1927) to 13th-century Saint Francis
Around 1918, Franciscan Father Étienne Benoît reprinted the “Prayer for Peace” in French, without attribution, on the back of a mass-produced holy card depicting his Order’s founder, the inspirational peacemaker from the Crusades era, Saint Francis of Assisi. The prayer was circulating in the United States by January 1927, when its first known English version (slightly abridged from the 1912 French original) appeared in the Quaker magazine Friends’ Intelligencer, under the misattributed and misspelled title “A prayer of St. Francis of Assissi”. The saint’s namesake American archbishop and military vicar Francis Spellman distributed millions of copies of the “Prayer of St. Francis” during World War II, and the next year it was read into the Congressional Record by Senator Albert W. Hawkes. As a friar later summarized the relationship between the prayer and St. Francis: “One can safely say that although he is not the author, it resembles him and would not have displeased him.”
Other notable invocations
The Prayer of St. Francis has often been cited with national or international significance, in the spirit of service to others.
By religious leaders
In 1986, Pope John Paul II recited the prayer in bidding farewell to the global religious leaders he hosted for the first “World Day of Prayer for Peace”, in Assisi at the Basilica of St. Francis. Indeed, the prayer “over the years has gained a worldwide popularity with people of all faiths”; and in 2013, Pope Francis chose his papal name as a tribute to St. Francis, “the man who gives us this spirit of peace”.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Kolkata, India) made it part of the morning prayers of the Roman Catholic religious institute she founded, the Missionaries of Charity. She attributed importance to the prayer when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1979 and asked that it be recited. It became the anthem of many Christian schools in Kolkata. South Africa’s Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent leadership against apartheid, declared that the prayer was “an integral part” of his devotions.
By political leaders
Margaret Thatcher, after winning the 1979 United Kingdom general election, paraphrased the prayer on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street, surrounded by a throng of reporters, having “kissed hands” with Queen Elizabeth II and become Prime Minister. In 1995, U.S. President Bill Clinton quoted it in his welcoming remarks to John Paul II, starting the papal visit to address the United Nations in New York City. Nancy Pelosi quoted the prayer when she became Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007, as did her successor John Boehner when he resigned in 2015.
The prayer is referenced in the Alcoholics Anonymous book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (1953), and is often known to AA members as the “Step Eleven Prayer”. An abbreviated version of the prayer was sung in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1972 film about St. Francis, Brother Sun, Sister Moon.A modified segment of the prayer is recited in one of the early trailers for the Sylvester Stallone 2008 film Rambo. A modified version of the prayer appears in the song Prayer in the musical Come From Away. A shortened version also appears in the HBO show Deadwood, episode 11, season one.
- Renoux, Christian (2001). La prière pour la paix attribuée à saint François: une énigme à résoudre (in French). Paris: Éditions franciscaines. ISBN 978-2-85020-096-0.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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