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Origin of Saint Francis’ Peace Prayer

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Where Did Saint Francis Say That?

Q: I keep seeing Saint Francis of Assisi credited as saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” I have looked in several places but cannot find where Saint Francis said this. 

A: This is a great quote, very Franciscan in its spirit, but not literally from Saint Francis. The thought is his; this catchy phrasing is not in his writings or in the earliest biographies about him.

In Chapter XVII of his Rule of 1221, Francis told the friars not to preach unless they had received the proper permission to do so. Then he added, “Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds.”

I had been a Franciscan for 28 years—and had earned an M.A. in Franciscan studies—before I heard the “Use words if necessary” quote. That was during Msgr. Kenneth Velo’s homily at Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin’s funeral in 1996.

About a year ago, a friend of mine used the Internet to contact some of the most eminent Franciscan scholars in the world, seeking the source of this “Use words if necessary” quote. It is clearly not in any of Francis’ writings. After a couple weeks of searching, no scholar could find this quote in a story written within 200 years of Francis’ death.

This saying and the “Peace Prayer,” which Francis certainly did not write, are easily identified with him because they so thoroughly reflect his spirit. Unfortunately, they would not have become as widespread if they had been attributed to “John Smith” or “Mary Jones.”

An 11th-century French prayer is similar to the first part of the “Peace Prayer.” The oldest known copy of the current prayer, however, dates to 1912 in France. The prayer became more well known in other countries during World War I.

This prayer is sold all over Assisi today—but always under the title “A Simple Prayer.” Whoever linked it to Saint Francis guaranteed a wide diffusion of the text. The same is true for the “Use words if necessary” quote. Both reflect Saint Francis very well.

Is Stem-Cell Research Moral?

Q: What is the Catholic Church’s position on stem-cell research? How did the Church arrive at that position?

A: On August 9, 2001, President George W. Bush announced his support for embryonic stem-cell research, limited to 60 “lines” of cells taken from “leftover” embryos. These were created by in vitro fertilization (in a petri dish) but not used for implantation in a woman’s uterus.

The Catholic Church objects to creating life this way—whether the embryo is successfully implanted or used only for research. In the second case, a human life is created but deliberately prevented from reaching its full potential.

In his 1995 encyclical The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II wrote: “Human embryos obtained in vitro are human beings and are subjects with rights; their dignity and right to life must be respected from the first moment of their existence. It is immoral to produce human embryos destined to be exploited as disposable ‘biological material’” (1,5).

In vitro fertilization is not the only way to obtain stem cells. They can be extracted from adults (not as usable for research) or from an umbilical cord after a child is born. The Catholic Church has no objection to research on stem cells obtained in those ways. The use of that research is a separate, but related, moral issue.

A moral theologian whom I consulted said that opposition to federal funding on stem cells from embryos created expressly for this purpose also reflects fear that such approval may lead to direct federal funding for abortion (currently not allowed) because this authorization could be used as an argument that embryos are not human persons. Aborted fetuses are also a source of stem cells. That, of course, emphasizes that these are human lives.

On June 29, 2001, Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote on behalf of the nation’s Catholic bishops to President George W. Bush, urging him not to authorize federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. “Government must not treat any living human being as research material, as a mere means for benefit to others,” wrote Bishop Fiorenza. Pope John Paul II made the same request during a private meeting with President Bush on July 23, 2001.

On August 23, 2000, the National Institutes of Health issued guidelines on stem-cell research. That same day, Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (headquartered in Washington, D.C.), issued a strong critique of those guidelines. Both documents can be found in the September 7, 2000, issue of Origins, a newsletter published by Catholic News Service. Your parish or local library may have a subscription.

The theologian whom I consulted wrote, “While much good may come from the proposed research, we must not lose sight of the fact that the means used to reach that good end must also be moral. The end does not justify the means. In this case, curing even thousands of persons does not justify the destruction of others, even though they are still in the embryonic state of development.”

Are Apostles and Disciples the Same?

Q: In reading the Gospels, I see references to apostles and in other places to disciples. Are they the same? 

A: According to the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, strictly speaking, there were only 13 apostles (the original 12, plus Matthias, who replaced Judas).

Saint Paul, however, uses this term 18 times to describe himself. Since apostle means one sent, the term has also been used for major preachers of the Good News in an area (Saint Boniface for Germany, Saint Patrick for Ireland, etc.).

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus appoints 70 disciples to go out and preach (10:1). Some manuscripts have 72 disciples. In the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Robert Karris, O.F.M., links this number to the list of nations in Genesis 10:2-31. For that passage, the Hebrew text reads 70 while the Greek text reads 72.

Strictly speaking, the number of apostles (ones sent) is limited to those chosen by Jesus during his lifetime, plus Matthias chosen to replace Judas. All Christians can and must be disciples (followers who learn from Jesus, the master).

Can You Recommend a Prayer?

Q: I am not doing what I should in order to enter the gates of heaven. Could you send me a daily prayer? I need to change my life, but do not know where to begin. 

A: I wrote this prayer to help you remain open to God’s grace and to accept the strength you need to cooperate with it:

“Heavenly Father, you know that I want to cooperate with your grace but you are also aware that often I fail to do that. Help me on my spiritual journey toward you. Show me how that journey influences the way that I deal with friends, family members, neighbors and even strangers. Give me the courage to make the changes that, deep down, I realize will bring me closer to you. I pray in the name of Jesus, your Son, and through the power of the Holy Spirit.”