Tolkien: A story without dragons

It simply isn’t an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.

Attr. J. R. R. Tolkien, but the very first thing I found when I Googled for it was a site where my work was done for me. He didn’t say it:

This is a line from a book by Sarah Ban Breathnach called Simple Abundance which was at #1 with the New York Times bestseller list. I will quote the relevant paragraphs from the book, it is on pages 26-27 (found via Google Books – also searchable with Amazon, with the 1995 edition it is on page 51):

JRRT’s name got attached because he is indeed quoted (correctly) in the entry of the book (it’s apparently a set of daily thoughts/meditations/whathaveyous) where this quotation appears. But it’s not him.

Newman: Radiating Christ

One of the great privileges of my first two years of priesthood was celebrating Mass several times a week for the Missionaries of Charity in Peoria. It was there that I encountered the prayer “Radiating Christ,” a favorite (according to many places on the Internet) of St. Mother Teresa and chosen by her to be recited after Mass by the sisters of her order.

Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance wherever I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly, that my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me, and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be a light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be mine.
It will be you, shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise You the way You love best, by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example, by the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.

It is indeed a beautiful prayer, but I was a little startled to discover one day that it was attributed to Blessed John Henry Newman. Parts of it sound like him; parts of it do not. Is the attribution accurate?

The short answer is that some of it is and some of it isn’t. Here’s the third paragraph of his  mediation “Jesus the Light of the Soul” (Meditations and Devotions Part III, VII, 3):

Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as Thou shinest: so to shine as to be a light to others. The light, O Jesus, will be all from Thee. None of it will be mine. No merit to me. It will be Thou who shinest through me upon others. O let me thus praise Thee, in the way which Thou dost love best, by shining on all those around me. Give light to them as well as to me; light them with me, through me. Teach me to show forth Thy praise, Thy truth, Thy will. Make me preach Thee without preaching—not by words, but by my example and by the catching force, the sympathetic influence, of what I do—by my visible resemblance to Thy saints, and the evident fulness of the love which my heart bears to Thee.

The connection of this to the latter portion of the “radiating Jesus” prayer is evident. But where does the first part come from? Not, I think, from the works of Newman. I searched the Newman Reader website for the word “fragrance,” and none of the hits are anything resembling this. I searched for the words “penetrate and possess,” and they occur nowhere together on the site. Just to be sure, I tried the same sort of search for “sympathetic influence,” and found the quotation I gave above.

Google searches for phrases from the first part of the prayer, both web searches and  Google Books searches, turn up a torrent of hits for the prayers itself and nothing that I could find that could have served as a basis for the first part. Where St. Mother Teresa found it and whether it was she or someone else who first attached it to Newman’s meditation to form the prayer, I can’t tell.

Screwtape on politics?

There’s a screenshot going around on FB alleged to be from the Screwtape Letters, beginning: “Be sure that the patient remains completely fixated on politics,” with the tagline, “Uncle Screwtape~1942.”

That first sentence alone set off alarm flags. It’s not Lewis-ian in vocabulary or phrasing at all. Neither is the rest of the post, which reads a lot like it was written by a frustrated American Christian in 2016.

But to prove the point, I went to Google Books. Even when you can’t see an entire book, Google Books will tell you if a search returned anything. It didn’t:


It’s a fauxtation, I’m sure composed in innocent tribute and then picked up upon by someone who didn’t realize what it was.

St. Francis: The compendium

St. Francis is one of the top targets for fauxtationers, right up there with St. Augustine, G. K. Chesterton, and C. S. Lewis. In honor of his feast day, here’s a list of posts dealing with him, along with one new one.

New: “Preach always; use words if necessary.” I haven’t done a post on this one before because it is widely known that it can’t be found anywhere in his works or in the early biographies of him. Wikiquote notes that it can find no citations before the 1990s. It might be a piece of Franciscan oral tradition, but I doubt it. My guess is that it was someone’s summary of St. Francis’s life.

Not authentic or probably not authentic:

Prayer of St. Francis
Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received
God can work through anyone
Start by doing what’s necessary
All the darkness in the world

St. Francis’s known works are a pretty short list. You can find most of them at this website (which is not a blanket endorsement of anything you find at the parent site; it carries materials from all sorts of religions), along with the earliest surviving biography, the well-known Little Flowers of St. Francis.

Remember: Saints don’t need fake quotations to be great!

St. Teresa of Ávila: “If this is how You treat your friends….”

The story runs along these lines: St. Teresa of Ávila had an unfortunate happenstance. Sometimes it is said that she fell off a horse into the mud; sometimes it’s a carriage accident and mud; sometimes there’s no mud at all and it’s an insight she received in prayer. Whatever the circumstances, she heard Jesus say to her, “This is how I treat my friends,” to which she replied, “If this is how You treat your friends, it is no wonder You have so few!”

Did it happen? Someone asked me and I went looking …

Googling for the phrase turned up lots and lots of hits, with no citations. Not good.

Wikiquote doesn’t mention it.

Google Books found it in a 1956 Saturday Review article, quoted as a well-known saying.

And here the trail seemed to go dry. I was suspicious because of the various forms of the story, but I wasn’t quite sure.

So I decided to look for the story in Spanish. With the help of Google Translate, I decided to search for Si así tratas a tus amigos (“If this is how you treat your friends”) which turned up many hits. But the remainder of the phrase varied:

* con razón no tienes muchos.
* con razón tienes tan pocos!
* ahora comprendo por qué tienes tan pocos.
* por eso tienes tan pocos.
* ¡no en balde tienes tan pocos!
and one site had the whole possible-quotation arranged differently: Señor, no me extraña que tengas tan pocos amigos si así tratas a los que tienes.

So I thought for a bit. The story didn’t seem to fit into the general tenor of her autobiography, but I checked the English translation for “friends” and for “treat” without finding the story. I checked the Spanish edition of the first biography written of her,  by Francisco de Ribera, one of her confessors, for the words amigos and tratas, again without finding the story.

I was about ready to throw my hands up in despair and say that the Saturday Review article was passing along a story from I-know-not-where whose reliability cannot be verified when I thought, “Wait! I bet before 1950 they told the story with thou instead of you!” So I Googled for If this be how thou treat thy friends.

Google very kindly tried to turn thou back into you and showed me all the same results I’d already seen. (Why it didn’t search for thou when I asked for you early on, I couldn’t say.) When I insisted on thou (putting a word in quotations will usually convince Google that you really mean it) it still showed me hits for you, but it also showed me hits for thou, and that struck gold. Or gold-ish, in the form of The Life of St. Teresa, a 1912 translation by Alice Lady Lovat “taken from the French of ‘A Carmelite’ Nun,” which gives the following story on page 548. In January of the last year of her life, 1582, she left Ávila to establish convents in Burgos and Grenada, and this befell her along the way:

Teresa describes the journey thus: “We had to run many dangers. At no part of the road were the risks greater than within a few leagues of Burgos, at a place called Los Pontes. The rivers were so high that the water in places covered everything, neither road nor the smallest footpath could be seen, only water everywhere, and two abysses on each side. It seemed foolhardiness to advance, especially in a carriage, for if one strayed ever so little off the road (then invisible), one must have perished.” The saint is silent on her share of the adventure, but her companions relate that, seeing their alarm, she turned to them and encouraged them, saying that “as they were engaged in doing God’s work, how could they die in a better cause?” She then led the way on foot. The current was so strong that she lost her footing, and was on the point of being carried away when our Lord sustained her. “Oh, my Lord!” she exclaimed, with her usual loving familiarity, “when wilt Thou cease from scattering obstacles in our path?” “Do not complain, daughter,” the Divine Master answered, “for it is ever thus that I treat My friends.” “Ah, Lord, it is also on that account that Thou hast so few!” was her reply.

I have been unable to find out anything about the French work from which this was taken, but it is at least certain that the whole story is not a 20th Century invention. I am still curious what the original source might be–the memoirs of one of her compatriots, perhaps? Someone’s letter from the journey? Carmelite oral tradition? But I’m not curious enough to keep looking.

St. Teresa/Theresa/Thérèse: Use the gifts

Use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.

This is the form, attributed to St. Thérèse, that showed up on my FB wall. A Google search revealed two important things:

  1. It’s also attributed to St. Theresa of Ávila and to St. Mother Teresa.
  2. It’s not by any of them because it’s an excerpt from this: “May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.  May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.” I am confident that none of them would speak of “the infinite possibilities that are born of faith,” and it’s also very unlikely that any of them would speak of “the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.”

I don’t know who wrote it, but it was written some time between 1970 and today.

St. Thérèse and praying for priests

Before I say anything else, let me thank all of you who pray for your priests!

There are two (at least) prayers for priests attributed to St. Thérèse. I’m pretty sure that neither one is hers.


O Jesus, Eternal Priest, keep Your priests within the shelter of Your Sacred Heart,
Where none may touch them.
Keep unstained their anointed hands, which daily touch Your Sacred Body,
Keep unsullied their lips, daily purpled with Your Precious Blood.
Keep pure and unearthly their hearts, sealed with the sublime mark of the priesthood.
Let your Holy Love surround them and shield them from the world’s contagion.
Bless their labors with abundant fruit,
and may the souls to whom they minister be their joy and consolation
here and in heaven their beautiful and everlasting crown.

The prayer appears in The American Ecclesiastical Review;: A Monthly Publication for the Clergy, Volume 50, pp. 608-609, publication date January 1914.

From a Sister of the Holy Child at Sharon Hill, Penna., who does some admirable artistic work (mostly for the uses of her own Community), we receive a tasteful parchment card on which the subjoined prayer is printed. We would recommend the card to priests as a souvenir in place of the sometimes elaborate, but rarely effective pictures sent to the friends of the newly-ordained on occasion of the celebration of a First Mass. This simple and beautiful prayer, with the signature and the date of ordination written at the bottom or on the back of the card by the newly-ordained priest’s own hand, would be apt to gain him the grace of faithful intercession and affectionate cooperation of friends more surely than the formal inscription on the back of a conventional picture or design.

I’m not sure how or when it got associated with the Little Flower. I can’t find it associated with her before 2000.

This is the other prayer, also probably not from St. Thérèse’s pen:

O Jesus, I pray for your faithful and fervent priests;
 for your unfaithful and tepid priests;
 for your priests laboring at home or abroad in distant mission fields.
 for your tempted priests;
 for your lonely and desolate priests;
 For your young priests;
 for your dying priests;
 for the souls of your priests in Purgatory.
 But above all, I recommend to you the priests dearest to me:
 the priest who baptized me;
 the priests who absolved me from my sins;
 the priests at whose Masses I assisted and who gave me Your Body and Blood in Holy Communion;
 the priests who taught and instructed me;
all the priests to whom I am indebted in any other way (especially …).
 O Jesus, keep them all close to your heart,
 and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity. Amen.
This prayer comes in some places with a leading paragraph:
O Almighty, Eternal God, look upon the Face of Your Son and for love of Him, who is the Eternal High Priest, have pity on Your priests. Remember, O most compassionate God, that they are but weak and frail human beings. Stir up in them the grace of their vocation which is in them by the imposition of the bishop’s hands. Keep them close to You, lest the enemy prevail against them, so that they may never do anything in the slightest degree unworthy of their sublime vocation.

I’ve seen it attributed in several places to Cardinal Cushing, who was Archbishop of Boston from 1944-1970, though I couldn’t find an original source to nail it down.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception included the prayer with no author given in a prayer book published in 1991.

I think it got associated with St. Thérèse when the Diocese of Arlington, VA included it in their St. Thérèse Vocation Society pamphlet, which must have gotten some wider publicity since it’s on the USCCB website. The pamphlet doesn’t attribute it to St. Thérèse, but it would still be an easy mistake to make.

Please, please do pray for priests; these are lovely prayers to use for that purpose; the priesthood was close to St. Thérèse’s heart; but I really don’t think she wrote either one of them.

St. Francis de Sales: Be what you are

Be what you are and be that well.

Attributed, accurately, to St. Francis de Sales, even though Wikiquote has it on the unsourced page. (I might go create an account and fix that.) A friend pointed me to the source.

It comes from a letter to Madame Marie Bourgeois Brûlartto, wife
of the president of the Burgundian Parliament. Here’s the context:

Do not love anything too much, I beg you, not even virtues, which we sometimes
lose by our excessive zeal. … Let us be what we are and be that well, in order
to bring honor to the Master Craftsman whose handiwork we are. People
laughed at the painter who, intending to paint a horse, came up with a perfect
bull; the work was handsome in itself, but not much credit to the artist who had
had other plans and succeeded in this one only by chance. Let us be what God
wants us to be, provided we are His, and let us not be what we would like to be,
contrary to His intention. Even if we were the most perfect creatures under
heaven, what good would that do us if we were not as God‘s will would have us

Letter CCLXXXIX, dated June 10, 1605, in vol. XIII of the Oeuvres de Saint François de Sales, Évêque et prince de Genève et Docteur de l’Église, edition complète (Annecy: Monastère de la Visitation, 1894), 53-54. Translation by Péronne Marie Thibert, V.H.M. in Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction, selected and introduced by Wendy M. Wright and Joseph F. Power, O.S.F.S. (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 111