Francis and the Animals
Seeing Things as They Truly Are
Monday, October 4, 2021
Richard continues exploring Francis of Assisi’s insights, pointing us beyond the “bird bath” spirituality for which Francis is too often known.
Francis of Assisi knew that the finite manifests the infinite, and the physical is the doorway to the spiritual. If we can accept this foundational principle we call “incarnation,” then all we need is right here and right now—in this world. This is the way to that! Heaven includes earth and earth includes heaven. There are not sacred and profane things, places, and moments. There are only sacred and desecrated things, places, and moments—and it is we alone who desecrate them by our lack of insight and reverence. It is one sacred universe, and we are all a part of it. In terms of a spiritual vision, we really cannot get any better or simpler than that.
Franciscan spirituality emphasizes a real equivalence and mutuality between the one who sees and what can be seen. What you see is what you are. There is a symbiosis between the mind and heart of the seer and what they pay attention to. Francis had a unique ability to call others—animals, plants, and elements—“brother” and “sister” because he himself was a little brother. He granted other beings and things mutuality, subjectivity, “personhood,” and dignity because he first honored his own dignity as a son of God. The world of things was a transparent two-way mirror for him, which some of us would call a fully “sacramental” universe.
As Franciscan sister Ilia Delio explains:
Francis came to realize that it is Christ who sanctifies creation and transforms it into the sacrament of God. The intimate link between creation and Incarnation revealed to Francis that the whole of creation is the place to encounter God. As his eyes opened to the holiness of creation, he came to see that there is nothing trivial or worthless. Rather, all created things point beyond themselves to their Creator. . . .
[The Franciscan scholar] Bonaventure [c. 1217‒1274] describes the contemplative vision of Francis as “contuition,” that is, seeing things for what they truly are in God. In his Major Legend, [Bonaventure] writes:
In beautiful things he [Francis] contuited Beauty itself and through the footprints impressed in things he followed his Beloved everywhere, out of them all making for himself a ladder through which he could climb up to lay hold of him who is utterly desirable. . . . He savored in each and every creature—as in so many rivulets—that fontal Goodness, and . . . sweetly encouraged them to praise the Lord. 
These footprints of God impressed on the things of creation enabled Francis to find God wherever he went in the world, and finding God in the things of creation led him to the embrace of Jesus Christ, for Christ is the Word of God made visible in the world. 
 Bonaventure, The Life of Blessed Francis, chap. 9, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, The Founder, eds. Regis J. Armstrong, J. A. Wayne Hellmann, and William J. Short (New City Press: 2000), 596–597.
 Ilia Delio, A Franciscan View of Creation: Learning to Live in a Sacramental World, The Franciscan Heritage Series, vol. 2 (The Franciscan Institute: 2003), 15–16.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 6–8.
Story from Our Community:
In 2015 I was blessed to experience a miracle in Assisi, Italy. I have been a social worker for many years and an advocate of mindfulness—being present in the moment. My journey now is to increasingly gain confidence in incorporating ‘spirit’ into my work. Thank you so much, Fr. Richard and CAC, for giving me the confidence to know I am on the right journey. And of course, thank you Saint Francis for somehow choosing me! May I forever be humble. —Mark L.
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