Patron Saint of Ecology

Franciscan Way: Part Two

Patron Saint of Ecology
Wednesday, October 9, 2019

One of the things Francis of Assisi is best known for is his love of nature. Pope John Paul II named him the Patron Saint of Ecology in 1979. Pope Francis entitled his encyclical about caring for our common home Laudato Si meaning “praise be to you,” a phrase which Francis used repeatedly in his Canticle of the Creatures.

St. Bonaventure (1221–1274), an early Franciscan mystic, taught that, “As a human being, Christ has something in common with all creatures. With the stone he shares existence; with plants he shares life; with animals he shares sensation; and with the angels he shares intelligence.” [1] In saying this, Bonaventure was trying to give theological weight to the deep experience Francis, who, as far as we know, was the first recorded Christian to call animals and elements and even the forces of nature by familial names, much as indigenous people have done for centuries: “Sister, Mother Earth,” “Brother Wind,” “Sister Water,” and “Brother Fire.”

Francis was fully at home in this created world. He saw all things in the visible world as endless dynamic and operative symbols of the Real, a theater and training ground for a heaven that is already available to us in small doses in this life. What you choose now, you shall have later seems to be the realization of the saints. Not an idyllic hope for a later heaven but a living experience right now.

We cannot jump over this world, or its woundedness, and still try to love God. We must love God through, in, with, and even because of this world. This is the message Christianity was supposed to initiate, proclaim, and encourage, and what Jesus modeled. We were made to love and trust this world, “to cultivate it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15), but for some sad reason we preferred to emphasize the statement that comes in the previous chapter, which seems to say that we should “dominate” the earth (Genesis 1:28). I wonder if this is not another shape of our original sin. God “empties” Godself into creation, and then we humans spend most of history creating systems to control and subdue that creation for our own purposes and profit, reversing the divine pattern.

In the spirit of St. Francis, read aloud this prayer of repentance, intention, and longing by one of his contemporary followers, Mirabai Starr:

Dear God,
You created the world
to serve our needs
and to lead us to you. 

Through our own unconsciousness
we have lost the beautiful relationship
we once had with the rest of creation. 

Help us to see
that by restoring our relationship with you
we will also renew our connection
with all your creation. 

Give us the grace to see
all animals as gifts from you
and to treat them with respect,
for they are your creation. 

We pray for all animals
who are suffering
as a result of our neglect. 

May the order you originally established
be once again restored
to the whole world. . . .

Amen. [2]

References:
[1] Bonaventure, “Sermon I for the Second Sunday of Lent,” trans. Zachary Hayes, “Christ Word of God and Exemplar of Humanity,” The Cord, vol. 46, no. 1 (1996), 13.

[2] Mirabai Starr, St. Francis of Assisi: Brother of Creation (Sounds True: 2007, 2013), 35.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 112-113.

Image credit: Leprosy in La Franceschina (detail), circa 1474, La Francheschina, a chronical of the Order by Franciscan Jacopo Oddi, Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: This encounter with lepers . . . would always be for Francis the core of his religious conversion. —Augustine Thompson
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