St. Francis: You take nothing with you

“Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature. What you are in his sight is what you are and nothing more. Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received…but only what you have given: a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.”

Attr. to St. Francis.

There’s a Facebook version going around with only the last sentence and a dash in place of the ellipsis. There’s also a version going around that inserts this after “God’s creature”: “Let not worldly cares and anxieties or the pressures of office blot out the divine life within you [some add: or in your great task of leading humanity to wholeness.]”

The saying seems to have been made popular in the form I gave at the top of the post, right down to the ellipsis, in Jan Karon’s A Light From Heaven. When I went fishing for references, I found the usual horde of sites with no attribution given. It’s not on Wikiquote, even as a known misquotation or a dubious quotation.

But Google Books gave me a snippet view of House of Commons Debates, Official Report, Volume 1, 1988–a record of the Canadian House of Commons debates. Sadly, the snippet doesn’t show what I need, but the text on the Google Books page itself says: “I wish to take the time to commend to this House the ancient words of the followers of Saint Francis of Assisi who wrote to the rulers of the people in about the year 1220 saying: We, … [sic; I didn’t omit anything. Google Books did.] Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature.”

Adding fuel to the fire, Google Books gives this from the Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1983: “The Mace was placed on the Speaker’s table by the Sergeant at Arms. The Reverend Angelus DeMarco, O.F.M., Pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Triangle, Virginia, … Let us never forget our purpose and destiny as God’s creature. What we are in your sight is what we are and nothing more. Let not worldly cares and anxieties or the pressures of office blot out your divine life within us, or the voice of your … (Adapted from Francis of Assisi’s Letter to the Rulers of the People).” Ellipses again belong to Google Books, not me. I’m not sure what “the voice of your” is based on.

The passage in question is most definitely not in St. Francis’s “Letter to the Rulers of the People,” (or “Peoples”) which you can read here and other places online. It’s short and it doesn’t say this or anything much like it. The Canadian version does say that it’s the words of “the followers” of St. Francis, but I can’t find anyplace that gives a reference in Franciscan writings either.

Altogether perplexing. Pending the arrival of someone more knowledgeable of Franciscan writings than I (which doesn’t take a whole awful lot), I’m going to label this one as dubious but not quite unproven.

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