Sunday, January 23, 2011

Saints: Prayer Of Saint Francis

Sarah MacLachlan: Prayer Of Saint Francis


If you visit Assisi, the central Italian hometown of the most revolutionary of Christian saints, among the many souvenirs flogged there you will find paraphernalia featuring the prayer usually attributed to St Francis (whose name meant Frenchman, after his father’s Francophilia). “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon.” And so on.

The prayer has been influential. Mother Teresa adopted it for her religious order; Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa has said it forms part of his daily devotions; Alcoholics Anonymous did use it for their inspirational literature. But there is no record of St Francis having composed such a prayer, even if it sounds like the kind of thing one would associate with the Catholic proto-hippie, who once was turned away from an appointment with the pope on account of his neglect in matters of personal hygiene — at an age when pretty much everybody stank.

The prayer’s first documented appearance dates to 1912, almost 700 years after St Francis’ death, in a French devotional magazine titled La Clochette (The Little Bell), published by a Catholic association known as La Ligue de la Sainte-Messe (The Holy Mass League). In 1916, during World War I, the prayer was reproduced by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano and the French mass circulation Catholic daily La Croix, giving it wider exposure and a reputation as a peace prayer. The prayer was first attributed to St Francis in 1927 by a French Protestant movement, Les Chevaliers du Prince de la Paix.

It has been put to song several times, most often obviously within a religious context. Singer-songwriter Denison Wittmer (a Christian musician of the Sufjan Stevens and Rosie Thomas variety) has recorded it. And Canadian singer Sarah MacLachlan recorded it as a bonus track for the Japanese version of her 1998 album Surfacing. It was made available to non-Japanese consumers on her Rarities, B-Sides, and Other Stuff Volume 2 collection, released in 2008.

MacLachlan has performed for a pope and recorded a couple of songs with Christian themes, but also covered XTC’s “Dear God”, a hymn to atheism. Apparently her deal is agnosticism.

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