September 23, 2002

Friar Jack's Catechism Quiz:
Sorting out the Truth About
St. Francis of Assisi
by Julie Zimmerman

The feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron of peace, animals and the environment, will be celebrated Oct. 4. Francis' legacy of peacemaking, his devotion to the gospel and his love for creation remain relevant today, 800 years after he lived. As his life of service and joy inspired followers, his greatness caused some stories about his work and life to be mythologized. This edition of "Friar Jack's Catechism Quiz" takes a closer look at St. Francis of Assisi. We admit this is not a big part of most catechisms, but saints are, and what saint is more popular than St. Francis?

For more on St. Francis, check out the Francis Web feature at

We also print some of the mail we received in response to Friar Jack's "First Anniversary of 9/11—Time to Move Ahead."


This Month's Quiz: (peeking encouraged!)

When did Francis say, "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary"?
When did he write the "Peace Prayer"?
How long was Francis' 40-day fast?

Friar Jack's Inbox:

Readers reflect on "First Anniversary of 9/11—Time to Move Ahead"


When did Francis say, "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary"?

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.”

A few years ago, someone 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.

Adapted from Ask A Franciscan, a feature in St. Anthony Messenger.

So when did he write the "Peace Prayer"?

Another trick question. The above 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 at 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 most often 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.

Adapted from Ask A Franciscan, a feature in St. Anthony Messenger.

How long was Francis' 40-day fast?

St. Francis observed the “Forty Days Fast of Saint Michael the Archangel,” beginning on Our Lady's Assumption (August 15) and concluding on the Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, on September 29.

But if you count off the days on the calendar, that is a period of more than 40 days—no matter on what day you begin or end the count. Even omitting the Sundays from the count wouldn’t make the days come out to 40.

All we can surmise is that the authors (and St. Francis himself) meant the expression “a fast of 40 days” to be taken loosely. The feasts were more important as the starting and ending times than the exact number of days. And I cannot personally believe Francis would have advocated fasting on the feasts themselves.

Bishop Hilarin Felder, O.F.M.Cap., author of The Ideals of St. Francis of Assisi (Benziger Bros., 1925), in his chapter “The Piety of St. Francis” spends some paragraphs speaking of Francis’ devotion to the angels as our guardians and St. Michael in particular. The angels were, in Francis’ eyes, our champions in the struggle against the powers of darkness. He saw the angels unceasingly singing hymns of praise before the Blessed Sacrament and urged that his brothers sing their office in union with the heavenly spirits.

In the struggle against evil Francis placed himself under the leadership of the Prince of Heaven, St. Michael, who, says Felder, has been assigned the office of leading souls into the Kingdom of heaven. Felder writes that Francis' battle cry was: “O invincible, valiant hero, Prince Michael, O guard us through life, O help us in strife, Prince Michael, Prince Michael!”

Since this fast was an act of personal devotion on Francis’ part, we can hardly know exactly how he observed it. I would think that the follower of today wanting to keep this fast would do so according to the custom and law for fasting in the Church today—meat once a day, one full meal and the other two not to equal together another full meal.

Adapted from Ask the Wise Man, an archive feature in St. Anthony Messenger.

Friar Jack's Inbox

Readers respond to Friar Jack's reflections on "First Anniversary of 9/11—Time to Move Ahead"

"Dear Friar Jack: Agreed...BUT...It is all well and good to speak platitudes about love and peace, but by turning the other cheek, we only can expect more of the same violence from people that do not know love and do not wish for peace. I must admit that my faith has been sorely shaken by the events of September 11...To close our eyes to the evil intentions of those that seek to destroy us is to invite our own destruction. I agree that all your suggestions are the best possible way of following Jesus' teachings, but in the meantime something must be done to eliminate the possibility of further attacks. Evil must be fought and resisted in a practical well as in an idealist way."—Barbara

"Dear Friar Jack: The perpetrators of September 11 did the devil's work. The hunting down and imprisonment or destruction of those who would kill our friends, our families and ourselves is the work of God. We have to destroy the evil. God will not come down to do it for us. The good people on this earth are the only instruments God has here."—Bob

Friar Jack responds: Thanks for your frank responses. I did not mean to suggest that there is no need to defend ourselves from terrorist attacks or bring evil-doers to justice. Our national leaders have the duty of protecting our people and our guests from violence and terrorism. Realistically, physical force may be needed to do this, but thoughtful people raise important questions about the moral limits of that force. Yet many commentators are arguing for the violent response as if there are no moral concerns.

As a writer for a Christian publication, I see my call as looking beyond war and violence and military force and saying that violence is not the ultimate solution to creating a more peaceful world. It's important to communicate the Christian message in this context and to speak for the building up of international peace in non-violent ways. Our leaders should move toward greater collaboration with the U.N. and leaders of other nations.

"Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for your reassuring and guiding words during this difficult time of remembrance. I currently live and work in a Muslim country overseas and truly believe in the need to fight hate with love. I've recently begun to learn and understand that this is a truth which rings true for all levels of human interaction, whether it be person-to-person or country-to-country. I think I'll remember the tragic events of September 11th by making a charitable donation to one of the local mosques."—Dan

Father Jack responds: Thanks, Dan, for your kind words. We need more people like you, who show respect to other religions and build up friendly relations with all people of good will.

"Dear Friar Jack: Our Francis turned from a military man to a repairman in that he began physically repairing churches and from that beginning to spiritually repair them. When we think of those who have followed in the true Franciscan way from then till now, and those who followed the paths of warfare from then till now, it's not hard to see the route we should take.—Michael

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A Retreat With Francis and Clare
Audiobook read by Fr. Murray Bodo, O.F.M., and Susan Saint Sing

Your directors for this retreat, Following Our Pilgrim Hearts, are Francis and Clare of Assisi. The material, arranged for seven days, allows you to choose your own pace to move through this retreat. Includes the singing of the "Canticle of the Creatures."
A Retreat With Francis and Clare of Assisi: Following Our Pilgrim Hearts

The Sun and Moon Over Assisi
Book by Gerard Thomas Straub

Francis and Clare still speak to us today. Go with the author on a pilgrimage to the vital Italian sites and sounds important to these two saints. Let the stories transform your pilgrimage. St. Francis' feast day is October 4.
The Sun and Moon Over Assisi:
A Personal Encounter With Francis and Clare


St. Francis Online

Visit our St. Francis Web feature to learn more about Francis, peace and animals (including our National Pet Blessing Directory), and tell us how your pet is a sign of God's love.


Send a NEW St. Francis e-greeting!

"We are all creatures of one family. We are all brothers and sisters."

The feast of St. Francis
is October 4.


Francis of Assisi
Activities and Coloring Fun for Children

A unique activity book for older children filled with the tales of the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Includes such activities as connect-the-dots puzzles, a word search, paper figures to cut out with several changes of clothing, a maze and poem writing. This is a delightful gift book.
Francis of Assisi
Activities and Coloring Fun for Children

To Live as Francis Lived
Audiobook read by Br. Dominic Lococo, O.F.M.

Curious about the Franciscan way of life? Through a process of prayer, reflection, study texts and questions you will gain a spiritual understanding of Francis and Clare of Assisi.
To Live as Francis Lived:
A Guide for Secular Franciscans


Send a Franciscan Pet Blessing!

"You inspired St. Francis to call all animals his brothers and sisters."

Send a Franciscan Pet Blessing!


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