Praying like “St. Francis” did.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 May

You know how when you’re praying in a group, and the prayer leader says something really profound which you wholly agree with, and you can definitely say amen to that?

Rote prayers are the very same way. It’s someone else’s prayer, but you’re agreeing with the prayer… and some of ’em just nail it. It’s precisely what you wanna tell God. So go ahead and borrow their words. They don’t mind. God doesn’t either.

One of the more popular rote prayers floating around out there is “the peace prayer of St. Francis.” Which, let’s be honest, was never actually written by Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone of Assisi (1181-1226), the Catholic layman-evangelist who founded the Franciscan order. True, those of us who know about Francis’s life can certainly imagine him saying stuff like this, but just like a whole lot of popular internet quotes, ’twasn’t him. The Italians call this la preghiera semplice/“the simple prayer.” I don’t find it all that simple, but it’s still a good one to pray.

I prefer translating these things myself, so I took this from the original French. That’s right, the original French; not Italian like Francis spoke, nor the vulgar Latin which medieval Catholics used to communicate. The prayer was anonymously published in December 1912 in the Catholic magazine La Clochette, as Belle prière à faire pendant la messe/“Beautiful prayer to say during Mass.”

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there’s hatred I’ll place love.
Where there’s offense I’ll place forgiveness.
Where there’s discord I’ll place union.
Where there’s error I’ll place truth.
Where there’s doubt I’ll place faith.
Where there’s despair I’ll place hope.
Where there’s darkness I’ll place your light.
Where there’s sadness I’ll place joy.
Oh Master, I don’t seek to be comforted as much as to comfort,
To be understood as much as to understand,
To be loved as much as to love.
For it’s in giving that we receive.
It’s in forgetting that one is found.
It’s in pardoning that we’re pardoned.
It’s in dying that we’re raised to eternal life.

’Cause we wanna do as Jesus does.

There’s a lot of similarity between the St. Francis prayer and “John Wesley’s Rule,” another popular rote prayer attributed to the wrong guy. Seriously; Wesley didn’t write this prayer either. (And you thought misattribution was a recent thing.)

Do all the good you can
By all the means you can
In all the ways you can
In all the places you can
At all the times you can
To all the people you can
As long as ever you can.

Yet another nice way to stretch out “Love your neighbor.” Mk 12.31, Lv 19.18 If you were looking for any loopholes, Wesley’s rule stitches most of them shut.

Basically the St. Francis prayer is about trying to minister to others, trying to spread the Spirit’s fruit instead of throwing poop like a monkey. As humans do. It’s about how we oughta act on God’s gifts, rather than just pray they happen, while we sit by passively and wait for God to reprogram or smite sinners. It’s about how we oughta use the fruit the Spirit gave us, rather than store them up for a rainy day… whenever that comes.

The purpose of the Spirit’s gifts are to pay ’em forward. This prayer helps us adjust our attitudes so we’re reminded we’re meant to share, not hoard. Give, not just receive.

So when you’re at a loss for words with God, pray this prayer.