“My hands, the hands of Christ”

I’ve been chasing this quote a while, in this form, as well as “Christ has no hands but ours/yours” and “Christ has no hands but our hands.” It gets attributed to St. Francis, St. Teresa of Avila, and tons of other saints or religious people.

But apparently this is a version of a real quote from a real saint.

As noted in the post just below, St. Jean-Gabriel Perboyre was a Vincentian missionary in China. On Sept. 11, 1840, he was executed in Wuchang (now part of Wuhan, China) as a traitor in one of the typical ways: tied to a cross, and then strangled by a rope from behind, by the public executioner.

At some point, he had composed a prayer which was included in the 1889 “Vie du Bienheureux Jean-Gabriel Perboyre.” It gets quoted different ways. Here’s the original text, from his French Wikipedia page:

Seigneur, transforme moi 
Que mes mains soient tes mains. 
Que mes yeux soient tes yeux. 
Que ma langue soit ta langue. 
Que mes sens et mon corps ne servent qu'à te glorifier ! 

Mais surtout, transforme-moi 
Que ma mémoire, mon intelligence, mon cœur 
soient ta mémoire, ton intelligence, ton cœur. 
Que mes actions et mes sentiments 
soient semblables à tes actions et à tes sentiments. 

Amen!

Here’s a literal translation into English:

O Lord, transform me. 
May my hands be Your hands. 
May my eyes be Your eyes. 
May my tongue be Your tongue. 
May my mind and my body serve only to glorify You. 

But transform me even more: 
May my memory, my understanding, and my heart 
Be Your memory, Your understanding, and Your heart. 
May my actions and my feelings 
Be likenesses of Your actions and Your feelings. 

Amen!

There’s also a famous hymn/poem from 1919 by Annie Johnson Flint (1866-1932) called “The World’s Bible,” which seems to be the biggest source for this quote in English. She was disabled by arthritis while still young, but received consolation from her strong faith.

Christ has no hands but our hands
To do His work today;
He has no feet but our feet
To lead men in His way;
He has no tongues but our tongues
To tell men how He died;
He has no help but our help
To bring them to His side.
We are the only Bible
The careless world will read;
We are the sinner's Gospel,
We are the scoffer's creed;
We are the Lord's last message,
Given in deed and word;
What if the type is crooked?
What if the print is blurred?
What if our hands are busy
With work other than His?
What if our feet are walking
Where sin's allurement is?
What if our tongues are speaking
Of things His lips would spurn?
How can we hope to help Him
And hasten His return?

Before that, there were similar quotes from the Quaker speakers Sarah Eliza Rowntree and Mark Pearse, which seem to have come down through the social justice/liberal side of Christianity.

But those quotes date back to 1888 or so, as opposed to this 1889 quote of a guy who died in 1840.

Of course, the general idea of the Mystical Body comes from St. Paul, and from Jesus. But although we baptized Christians are Christ’s Body mystically, that doesn’t mean that Christ has no body in Heaven or in the Eucharist, or that Christ is powerless if we don’t act. Not only is He alive and active and all-powerful and incarnate. No, if we don’t do it, there’s nothing stopping God from making stones into children of Abraham, or the stones from taking the actions that we’re too lazy to do.

Needless to say, I didn’t find anything in Latin along the lines of “Christus manibus non habet.” The most you get is commentaries pointing out that when the Psalms talk about God’s hand or arm or feet or ears or eyes, the psalmists are not generally being literal. Only Christ is God incarnate, with body parts and clothes. So the idea that this quote is medieval or from the Fathers is just wrong.

But there’s nothing wrong with puttting on Christ and becoming Christ-like, and carrying our crosses like Him. The more we act as His Body and do His Will, the more we let His life come into us and make us eternally alive.

But His hands are our hands when they are wounded, and His Body is our body when we are on the Cross.

That’s the prayer of a martyr. Jesus took him up on it.

3 Comments

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3 responses to ““My hands, the hands of Christ”

  1. So, if I wanted to send you a mail regarding filk topics and album recordings that I have of you, how would I do it? 🙂 – Steve

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