I laid my Bible on the pew next to me at church service while the pastor quoted the Peace Prayer by St. Thomas Assisi. I found this prayer jarring, unrelated to the sermon and message. Why? As you read, the word’s meaning transform depending on your place and view of events–an ode to combat and comfort the challenges of the ongoing grind.
In today’s society, often magnified by our political parties, we focus on what we don’t have and often look to identify victims. In Congress, bills are proposed to balance the playing field. As Tocqueville said, nations fall when they hand out checks to their constituents. Inflation too. At the high court, legal arguments are made on admission policies. And this bleeds into sports with talks of the yips, an awful and challenging state of mind when throwing to first base becomes almost impossible. I feel for each of the above; yes, I struggled with the Steve Sax syndrome too. Yet, celebrating or demonizing victimhood doesn’t make the throw easier. And public policy and devising a means to tip the scales creates a host of issues often failing to reward those who push onward and succeed and drive innovation. Instead of celebrating the accomplishments of an age, our focus is oft placed elsewhere.
Consider this, we’ve spent more time focusing on someone falling four times and placing fourth than the athletes who skated flawlessly. Instead of celebrating a triple, we want to stare at the cheating quad in quiet horror. And, yes, it’s hard to know what to make of a billionaire and former leader of the free world who bemoans how mistreated he was while sitting in luxury amidst championship golf courses and gold plated toilets. All of this now seems trivial as the Russian Army marches across Ukraine. Time to pay attention and focus on the important.
Maybe, that is why I was struck by the carefully crafted prayer of St. Thomas. When you read, pay attention to the word choice. Specifically the second portion. The wish not to be consoled as to console. The power to understand instead of being understood. Words do matter. Subtle. Beautiful. They can last.
In research, I found the Saint probably never officially wrote this prayer. In literature, it’s not uncommon to have chants and traditions passed from one church to the next and onward through the centuries. Catholic Saints are attributed to many quotes that they did not utter verbatim. And the first origin of this prayer was in the early 1900s from a French newspaper. So, what to make of this beautiful work? Fake news come to save us? Does one visit Vatican City, knock on the doors, and demand a formal correction from the church? Maybe, we chalk this up to the spirit of the Saint passing his words down through centuries of prayer. And, at a service, a parishioner jotted down his notes.
And, with our connection to one another and the almighty, we passed that down to the next person and the next until one soul with the right job and set of skills at the right time decided to jot the words down carefully creating a short, discernible entry for parishioners and the broader community of France to find solace during a world war? Was Homer any different?
That being said, is this like some misguided Abe Lincoln quote? Another instance of fake news erupting from loose threads with malicious intent? Unlike how some news outlets diminish these quotes from religious leaders as fake, I want to believe this powerful prayer has more meaning.
Dear reader, I’ll let you come to your own conclusions.
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;
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.
Thoughts Revisited, The Repetition
Again, going back to the careful second stanza and how the lines build to the third, the word choice crescendos through a certain repetition. Instead of focusing on oneself, what if our focus became outward? What if we refuse to shout to the wind or into the internet void, which can manifest unexpectedly, and focus on our own actions? Powerful indeed. Onward.