As we prepare for our annual commemoration of St. Francis, I can’t help but reflect on the popular “A Prayer Attributed to St. Francis.” When I was growing up, my mom had a lovely, little travel icon of Francis with that prayer set up in our family room--one of the few lingering signs of our Catholic identity in which she could still recognize her faith. (Many of my grandmother’s other zealous gifts would quietly vanish almost as quickly as they were given.) Accordingly, it was one of the handful of prayers that I internalized from an early age, an echo of home and shared identity as I grew and began working to delineate my own beliefs. Here’s how it appears in the Book of Common Prayer (833):
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
First, it is important to note is that the BCP version of the prayer shifts the prayer’s voice from the individual to the plural, the community. The original form of the prayer begins with ten petitions that all include the words “I” or “me,” only moving beyond the first-person singular during the final five maxims that close out the prayer. Another difference is that our version elides the closing movement slightly, excising the maxim between “it is in giving that we receive” and “it is in pardoning that we are pardoned”: “c'est en s'oubliant qu'on trouve.”* It is in self-forgetting that we find. Perhaps the reframing toward “we” in the prayer book implicitly speaks to the same truth, revealing how the collective in all of its relationships is a fuller articulation of what it means to follow Jesus Christ.
What I have slowly learned to take away from either form of the prayer is that action is the fulcrum upon which faith turns. Even the first line of the prayer, the opening petition, takes the apparent identity of “instruments of your peace” and makes it dynamic. Through God’s grace, we are always in the processes of becoming better instruments (in both sense of the word), always singing with a clearer voice or crafting with truer strength. We spend most of our lives in the space between I and we, but there is resurrection to be found the more and more we enter into that divide. In offering up who we thought we were, we find a self with a little more wholeness. In pulling our neighbor out of the figurative and not-so-figurative graves we find ourselves in, we all rise a little closer to eternal life. Giving and receiving reach their fulfillment in mutuality. St. Francis may not have written the prayer that has come to bear his name, but I have no doubt that he would join us in affirming “amen” to it.
*The earliest known example of the prayer is from a 1912 edition of the small, French spiritual magazine La Clochette