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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Prayer of St. Francis, or Somebody


Did you know that the "Prayer of St. Francis", the one which begins "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love...", was not written by St. Francis at all? According to Franciscan Father Chuck Faso, who ought to know, since he's in the business of promoting the cult of the great saint, it was composed sometime around the beginning of World War 1, some 700 years after Francesco d'Assisi walked in grace upon this planet. It's so funny that after all these years in the "biz" something like that can surprise me. I wouldn't have been surprised to find out that it was written by a disciple of his, or that he had popularized a pre-existent prayer, but to discover that the prayer wasn't known to him at all is pretty amazing.
This got me thinking about Sebastian Temple, and the "Prayer of St. Francis" that he wrote in the late 1960's, now often anthologized as "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace." Oregon Catholic Press's website says that he
...grew up in South Africa and later moved to London, where he worked for the BBC on news broadcasts relating to South Africa. Sebastian converted to Catholicism and spent much of his time composing music for worship.
Elsewhere, I found this:
Sebastian Temple,
1928-1997
...Temple was born in South Africa on Feb. 12, 1928. His early years were spent in the countryside. His mother died when he was 3 and his father turned him over to his grandparents to raise. He adopted the Franciscan lifestyle and became a Secular Franciscan. Temple spent much of his time composing music for worship, much of which later was recorded into six separate collections. 
I confess that I only remember a couple of those collections, the first of which had a number of songs we used in the 1970s for worship, notably "The Mass Is Ended," “Sing, People of God, Sing!” and "Take My Hands." In a second collection, The Universe Is Singing, he attempted to integrate some of the writings of Teilhard de Chardin into liturgical songs.  I found the songs to be provocative (but on novitiate in 1969-70, I was impressionable), while others found them to be precious. I used to play them on guitar, but couldn't really convince my classmates of their worthiness. I remember the lyrics of one stanza of one of those songs, just to show you what I mean:
A fire-mist and a planet,
A crystal and a cell,
A jellyfish and a saurian,
And the caves where cavemen dwell,
Then a sense of law and duty
And a face turned from the sod:
Some call it evolution,
And others call it God.
OK, so they may have been right. But you have to admit, that text was pretty "out there" for forty years ago.
Sebastian Temple died a few years ago of natural causes. But his song has been played millions of times all over the English-speaking world, including being sung at Princess Diana's funeral, because it was one of her favorite songs. Good for you, Sebastian. Thanks for that. Of course, in addition, it's been played at thousands of other funerals, most of them, I think, by me. How wonderful to have written music for words that touch the hearts of so many people from such diverse backgrounds!
Two other fine settings of the text are "Peace Prayer" are by John Foley, S.J., and Cyprian (Daniel) Consiglio, OSBCam, whose setting is called "Echo of Your Peace." I know there are plenty of others, but these have been the standard-bearers in my experience, and none really achieved the universal appeal of Sebastian Temple's version.
That's all I have for today, just a word of thanks and a prayer for Sebastian's soul, which went to God in 1997. 
Every song has a story. As we go along, I'll try to tell some of mine, while I can still remember them.