Where Did St. Francis Say That?
Q: I keep seeing St. 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 St. Francis said this.
A: This is a great quote, very Franciscan in its
spirit, but not literally from St. 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.”
Exhaustive research on the origins of the “Peace Prayer
of St. Francis” has led to Christian Renoux’s new book in
French. This 210-page study (ISBN 2-85020-096-4) is described
under Les Editions Franciscaines.
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 St. Francis
guaranteed a wide diffusion of the text. The same is true
for the “Use words if necessary” quote. Both reflect St.
Francis very well.
Is Stem-Cell Research Moral?
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’”
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.”
Best Franciscan Web Sites?
Q: My friend is looking for
information about the Tau cross, which St. Francis used.
Can you recommend a Web site offering reliable information?
A: Among the hundreds of Franciscan-related Web sites,
I suggest that you start with www.wtu.edu/franciscan.
This has links to all parts of the U.S. and worldwide Franciscan
family. It even offers a virtual tour of Assisi!
For the Tau cross, however, you are better
off going to www.google.com
and typing “Franciscan” + “tau cross.” The Web address ending
in “.au” may be the most concise information about this
available on the Internet. Most Web sites have an “About
Us” button indicating who sponsors that site. That should
help you evaluate the site’s reliability.
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).
St. 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 (St. Boniface for Germany, St. Patrick for
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
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
“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.”
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be
mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.