I have several copies of the “Peace Prayer,” attributed to St. Francis, on walls where I am likely to bump into it. (Don’t worry, you’ll bump into it down below, if you’ve never heard of it). I need to remember it in a world that is more about power than peace.
I do remember it. By now, after all that bumping, that prayer is etched on a convenient wall in my mind. So I had it on hand the other day when I needed it. And, like prayer often does, it inspired me to go beyond it. Maybe you’ll want to get someplace beyond what it usually offers you, too.
Some history of the Peace Prayer
There is no way Francis wrote “Make me an instrument of your peace.” For one thing, he rarely wrote anything about “me.” More relevant is the fact this prayer did not appear in general circulation until 1912. If a stray prayer of Francis of Assisi had been laying around for 700 years, someone would have known about it.
The prayer first appeared in Paris in small spiritual magazine called “La Clochette” (The Little Bell), the newsletter of La Ligue de la Sainte-Messe (The Holy Mass League). The league’s founder and editor of the newsletter was Father Esther Bouquerel (1855-1923). He published the prayer as written by “Anonymous” with the title of “Belle prière à faire pendant la messe” (A Beautiful Prayer to Say During the Mass). The author was probably Father Bouquerel himself, but the identity of the author remains a mystery.
The prayer was sent in French to Pope Benedict XV in 1915 by the aristocrat, Marquis Stanislas de La Rochethulon. This was soon followed by its 1916 appearance, in Italian, in L’Osservatore Romano [the Vatican’s daily newspaper] in the middle of World War I. Around 1920, the prayer was printed on the back of an image of St. Francis with the title “Prière pour la paix” (Prayer for Peace) but without being attributed to the saint. It was first attributed St. Francis in 1927 by a French Protestant Movement, Les Chevaliers du Prince de la Paix (The Knights of the Prince of Peace).
The first time it was published in English was probably in 1936 in Living Courageously, a book by Kirby Page, a Disciples of Christ minister, pacifist, social evangelist, writer and editor of The World Tomorrow. Page clearly attributed the text to Francis. During World War II and immediately after, this prayer for peace began circulating widely as the “Prayer of St. Francis,” especially through Francis Cardinal Spellman’s books. Over the years it has gained a worldwide popularity with people of all faiths. It was central to the gathering memorialized below.
Let’s pray the prayer
There are four major wars raging in the world right now. It is time for a prayer for peace. Each war has caused over 10,000 deaths, or more, in the past two years (Wiki). Over fifty conflicts with fewer casualties are also ongoing.
Last week Reuters said Russia doubled its 2023 defense spending to more than $100 billion — a third of all the country’s public expenditure. In July, the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German research institute, calculated the U.S. had, so far, spent $75 billion in assistance to Ukraine; included was humanitarian, financial, and military support.
“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!” In a world at war in large ways and small, shouldn’t that be our daily prayer? The peace prayer is that kind of prayer. Let’s try it out:
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 in dying that we are born to eternal life.
In the 1970’s, Franco Zeffirelli and Donovan put music in the mouth of Francis along with the erroneously attributed words, which is how I usually pray the prayer, too.
Add your own lines
In the middle of World War I a hopeful priest wrote a beautiful prayer. People picked up on it over time, translated it, tweaked it here and there in the process, put it on prayer cards. published it in magazines and bulletins, and said it was authorized by St. Francis, himself. I love it. Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu loved it.
But I don’t think a recited prayer is very alive unless people keep rewriting it.
The other day, I remembered my old favorite prayer and the erroneous depiction of my favorite saint praying it. I was especially moved by “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console.” I had been feeling a bit inconsolable. The prayer helped me turn from my “side screen” to look at the “big picture” of my life [post on turning].
As I prayed, I began to see all sorts of other ways I should be praying the same basic prayer. Once it set me on a roll, I kept on rolling! And I realized neglecting to do so would result in a lack of peace in me and there would be that much less peace in the world, too.
I now have a longer prayer to use — at least until I need to add something else! Here is the new stanza I added especially for me. If you need it, nothing prevents you from praying it with me!
Lord grant that I may not so much seek
to be found as to find;
to hold out for what I deserve as to give;
to evaluate what meets the test as to accept;
to justify my temper as to be patient;
to resist possible disappointments as to collect small joys;
to sort out the weaknesses of others as to relish their goodness;
to protect my safety as to risk what it takes to connect.
What should you be adding to the peace prayer?
Be careful as you meditate on that question. Note that Father Bouquerel/Francis said “grant that I may not so much” NOT “Grant that I may erase my needs and desires.” We love others as we love ourselves. Erasing yourself does not make others more alive. Being unhappy is not a price you pay for making others happy. Turning into what is better is an everyday necessity — thus, we love that great peace prayer when we face all our conflicts, inside and out.
Peace is a lot more likely to take root in our hearts if we love others like Jesus loves us. And that love for others will be a lot more authentic when we are at peace in the love of Jesus. Pray: “Lord you are the instrument of my peace; make me an instrument of your peace.”