The other day, someone representing a fine Catholic group posted these kindly words on the group’s Facebook page:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, Yours are the eyes through which is to look out Christ’s compassion to the world; Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now. ~St. Teresa of Avila, Mystic and Doctor of the Church
And that certainly is an inspirational saying. Indeed, it’s our calling to live out the truth that we in the Church are the mystical body of Christ.
However: does it sound like St. Teresa of Avila?
Surely she was too good a writer to put the following convoluted sentence on paper:
Yours are the eyes through which is to look out Christ’s compassion to the world.
Just try to diagram that sentence; go ahead. Whoever wrote this thing is very fond of inverting the order of words. Instead of saying in a straightforward way, “Let Christ’s compassion look out to the world through your eyes,” we have the above version, which is very strained, very arch: the writing of someone who is making a grand effort to impress.
And think about the doctrinal message those words contain: considering that we Catholics hold that the holy Body of Jesus Christ is present here in the world in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, would a Doctor of the Church make such a contradictory statement as “Christ has no body now on earth but yours”? No; nobody gets the title of Doctor of the Church if they write such imperfect expressions of Christian doctrine.
To get to the root of the question, an interested person contacted the Institute of Carmelite Studies in Washington, DC, which translates, edits, and publishes the works of Saint Teresa, and asked them about it. They told her that the passage does not come from the writings of the saint, or from oral tradition of her sayings.
Now, this sort of thing happens all the time on the Internet. There are quotations of inspiring material: sometimes inspiring pious treacle, or inspiring humanistic pep-talk, or even sometimes inspiring heretical new-age nonsense which people pass around and re-quote — even ministers and pastors who should know better — all because it comes attributed to some popular saint. Sometimes it’s perfectly acceptable Catholic material, but just not correctly attributed. Be on guard about this erroneous stuff. I think the most common names used are St. Francis of Assisi, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Teresa of Avila.
Did St. Francis say, “Preach, and if necessary, use words”? Probably not.
For someone who preached as much as St. Francis, those words may be out of character. The message of the saying is that we should favor preaching without words over preaching with words. This is the kind of saying that moderns love, ’cause they don’t want to hear Catholic preaching.
It’s someone’s summary of a legend of St. Francis. It may be a modern legend: I don’t know, ’cause I haven’t been able to find it in print. Supposedly, the saint took one of the brothers with him to go and preach in the town; Francis led him through the town as they walked in their habits, and to the brother’s puzzlement he did not stop in a square or at a church or anywhere to address the people; in fact, they spoke to no one. Eventually their course led them back to their home, and Francis thanked the brother for helping him preach, and left it at that, without an explanation.
Now, this could be a legitimate story, expressing the point that the habit itself is a silent reminder of the Gospel message. But so far I haven’t found any reliable source for the legend, let alone the cutesy one-liner that sums it up.
For another matter: did St. Francis write the prayer, “Make me a channel of your peace”?
No, those words first appeared, without attribution, on the back of a holy card, around 1915 in Normandy. Because the holy card was an image of St. Francis, and it expresses St. Francis’ zeal for reconciliation, the prayer has since been erroneously attributed to him.
What’s important about this? The Internet gives people the ability to send the Gospel out to the world in seconds, and also gives the ability to send out half-truths or total rubbish. There’s more good communication going on than ever before, and more spreading of error and confusion.
If you want to participate in sharing the Faith on the net, spreading erroneous material hurts your credibility, and makes you a less effective witness for the Faith. Let’s all learn to be smart Internet users, using reasonable caution: check the sources of material that people send you.