Friday, August 15, 2014

Like Yogi Berra, St. Francis didn't really say everything he said

St. Francis preaching to the birds
(maybe they were the ones he told to preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words)

Yesterday over at St. Malachy's, Fr Dave dropped into his homily that line you've heard a million times about "preach[ing] the Gospel always and if necessary use words."  Fr. Dave credited St. Francis of Assisi, but it sure doesn't sound like something a twelfth century person would have said, and it doesn't appear in any of the standard sources on St. Francis of Assisi.   So where did it come from?  Maybe from this story, which St. Alphonsus Liguori recounts in a couple of places:

St. Francis of Assisi once said to his companion that he was going out to preach. After walking through the town, with his eyes fixed on the ground, he returned to the convent. His companion asked him when he would preach the sermon. We have, replied the saint, by the modesty of our looks, given an excellent instruction to all who saw us. 

The point about preaching without words is present, but the thrust is quite different.  Instead of a swipe at people who preach the Gospel without practicing it (I don't run into many such, but maybe I'm not very observant), St. Alphonsus's story illustrates St. Francis's great devotion to Christian modesty.  Still, it's possible this story inspired the better known, snappier, but likely less accurate quotation Fr. Dave used.  So where did St. Alphonsus Liguori get this story from?  Alas, in this case St. Alphonsus doesn't provide a source, even though most of the time he does.  I suspect if St. Alphonsus had a published source for this story he would have provided it.

An official Inigo Hicks refrigerator magnet to the first person who can track down the source of St. Alphonsus Liguori's story about St. Francis, or the source of the quotation, attributed to St. Francis, to "preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words."  

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