St. Francis: A Message for Our Times
Saturday: October 10, 2020
Summary: Sunday, October 4—Friday, October 9, 2020
St. Francis stands as one who made the way of Jesus credible and concrete, both for those called to formal religious life and for men and women living in the ordinary world. —Robert Ellsberg (Sunday)
Humans and the creaturely world have as their vocation the duty to support and complete one another, not to compete against and destroy one another. —Michael Perry (Monday)
Creation itself was Francis’ primary cathedral, which then drove him back into the needs of the city, a pattern very similar to Jesus’ own movement between desert solitude (contemplation) and small-town healing ministry (action). (Tuesday)
Francis and Clare were not so much prophets by what they said as in the radical, system-critiquing way that they lived their lives. (Wednesday)
When we agree to live simply, we put ourselves outside of others’ ability to buy us off, reward us falsely, or control us by money, status, salary, punishment, and loss or gain of anything. (Thursday)
We must move to the laboratory where all radical change can occur—inside of our very mind, heart, and the cells of our body. I call it the laboratory of contemplative practice, which rewires our inner life and confirms in the soul a kind of “emotional sobriety.” (Friday)
Practice: Two Practices with Animals
Who could ever express the deep affection Francis bore for all things that belong to God? Or . . . tell of the sweet tenderness he enjoyed while contemplating in creatures the wisdom, power, and goodness of the Creator? —Thomas of Celano
Francis of Assisi is known for his love for animals, but too often the stories become overly romanticized or even magical in their thinking. The truth of Francis’ respect for animals is far more profound than mere “birdbath Franciscanism” lets on. Everything was a mirror for Francis. What he saw in the natural world, in the sky, in animals, and even plants was a reflection of God’s glory. His first biographer, Thomas of Celano, writes about how Francis was constantly praising creatures for giving God glory just by their very existence. They could simply be and be themselves. Eventually, nature mirrored back the same message to Francis himself: He could just be and be himself in all of his freedom and joy and poverty. Today’s contemplative practice from biologist Rupert Sheldrake invites us to share a “mirroring” experience with the animal world so that we might have a glimpse of the reality that Francis lived throughout his life.
Be Present with an Animal
If a cat is purring while you stroke it, be completely present to the stroking and the purring—rather than stroking distractedly while having a conversation or watching TV. The cat is present; become present with it.
Or listen to a bird singing. I live in England, and my favorite birdsong is that of blackbirds singing in the spring and early summer. I listen to their songs, which change every time they sing. Often I hear another blackbird respond: they interact with each other and reply to each other’s tunes and variations. They are present to each other. We can be present through listening. Wherever you live, you will be able to find birds singing. . . .
Get to Know Another Species
If you keep a cat, dog, horse, parrot, budgerigar, rabbit, hamster, ferret, lizard, goldfish, stick insect, or another kind of animal, you are already getting to know another species. If you have, or have had, more than one cat, dog, horse, or other animal, you will also know that each animal is different. Each expresses its unique individuality within the context of its species’ instincts.
If you do not have a companion animal, or even if you do, you can get to know a wild species by observing individuals that live near you—like birds in your garden or in a nearby park—watching and listening to them, perhaps feeding them, relating to them throughout the year. Or you can raise caterpillars or tadpoles and witness their transformation into butterflies, moths, or frogs.
The better you know your chosen kind of animal, the more you will appreciate its way of being, its form of life. You will feel connected to a world much wider than your human concerns, and with which you share a common source.
Rupert Sheldrake, Ways to Go Beyond and Why They Work: Seven Spiritual Practices for a Scientific Age (Monkfish Book Publishing: 2019), 71–72.
Epigraph: The Life of Saint Francis, chapter 29. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, The Saint, ed. Regis J. Armstrong, J. Wayne Hellmann, William J. Short (New City Press: 1999), 250.
For Further Study:
Leonardo Boff, Francis of Rome & Francis of Assisi: A New Spring in the Church, trans. Dinah Livingstone (Orbis Books: 2014).
Robert Ellsberg, The Franciscan Saints (Franciscan Media: 2017).
Francis and Clare: The Complete Works, trans. Regis J. Armstrong and Ignatius C. Brady (Paulist Press: 1982).
Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, The Saint, ed. Regis J. Armstrong, J. Wayne Hellmann, William J. Short (New City Press: 1999).
Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, The Founder, ed. Regis J. Armstrong, J. Wayne Hellmann, William J. Short (New City Press: 2000).
Pope Francis, The Spirit of Saint Francis: Inspiring Words from Pope Francis, ed. Alicia von Stamwitz (Franciscan Media: 2015).
Dawn M. Nothwehr, Ecological Footprints: An Essential Franciscan Guide for Faith and Sustainable Living (Liturgical Press: 2012).
Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014).
Richard Rohr, The Franciscan Way: Beyond the Bird Bath (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), online course.