The prayer that begins with this petition is my favorite and the favorite of millions of people of various religious denominations around the world. A musical version of the prayer, “Make me a channel of your peace,” is also popular with church choirs. Here is the full prayer:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I 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 dying that we are born to eternal life.
Although the prayer is best known as “The Prayer of St. Francis,” scholars agree that it was not written by St. Francis! French professor Christian Renoux explains that it first appeared in a French magazine in 1912, was sent to Pope Benedict XV in 1915, and became popular in Europe between the World Wars. Its first appearance in English was in a 1936 book by Kirby Page, a Disciples of Christ minister.
Despite the fact that Francis of Assisi did not write the prayer, its message could well be considered the theme of his life, as Franciscan priest Jack Wintz explains.
What I find most remarkable about the prayer is its pervasive humility. To begin with, though like many other prayers it is a prayer of petition, it does not ask for the commonly requested blessings of health or wealth for oneself or others, or for success in life or more meaningful relations with family and friends. Instead, it asks for the person reciting it to be a mere instrument of God’s grace. It is thus eminently self-effacing.
The first stanza evokes the gospel parable of the sower. It asks for the responsibility of planting the seeds of what is most needed in the world, yet all too often lacking—love, pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy.
The second stanza contrasts sharply with the perspective of the present age. Our culture encourages us to seek consolation, understanding, love, and indeed all manner of good things for ourselves. The prayer does not condemn such seeking but instead makes it secondary to seeking the blessings of consolation, understanding, and love for others.
The final three lines of the prayer simply but eloquently summarize the message of the Gospel: “For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is dying that we are born to eternal life.” Moreover, the reference to dying conveys a double meaning—the more obvious literal one and the figurative one that dying to self leads to life in the Holy Spirit.
In the larger sense, the prayer offers three spiritual insights. First, that God’s peace may be defined as the presence of the specified virtues and kindnesses; secondly, that each of us can be a bearer of that peace to others; and finally, that by accepting that challenge, we ourselves will be drawn closer to God.
Though written by someone else, “The Prayer of St. Francis” turns our thoughts to the thirteenth century’s most famous son, “Il Poverello,” the little poor man who is said to have lived more like Christ than any other human being ever has. His life was and remains a prescription for the peace the world has always needed but seldom more urgently than in our time.
Copyright © 2017 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved
VINCENT RYAN RUGGIERO, M.A., is Professor of Humanities Emeritus, State University of New York, Delhi College. Prior to his twenty-nine year career in education, he was a social caseworker and an industrial engineer. The author of twenty-one books, his trade books include Warning: Nonsense Is Destroying America and The Practice of Loving Kindness. His textbooks include The Art of Thinking and Beyond Feelings, both in 10th editions and available in Chinese as well as English, Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, and A Guide to Sociological Thinking. His latest book, Corrupted Culture: Rediscovering America’s Enduring Principles, Values, and Common Sense, is available at Amazon and in bookstores. Professor Ruggiero is internationally recognized as one of the pioneers of the Critical Thinking movement in education. Earlier in his career, he published essays in a variety of magazines and journals, including America, Catholic Mind, The Sign, The Lamp, and Catholic World.