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Saint Francis of Assisi
“My brothers, birds, you should praise your Creator.”
Saint Francis of Assisi is honored by the Catholic Church as the patron saint of people who promote ecology. Saint
Francis was born at Assisi in Umbria in 1181 or 1182. His father was a prosperous merchant, and Francis planned
to follow him in his trade, although he also had dreams of being a troubadour or a knight. In 1201 he took part in
an attack on Perugia, was taken hostage, and remained a captive there for a year. As a result of his captivity and a
severe illness his mind began to turn to religion, but around 1205 he enlisted in another military expedition, to
Apulia. However, Francis had a dream in which God called him to His service, and he returned to Assisi and began
to care for the sick. In 1206, he had a vision in which Christ called him to repair His Church. Francis interpreted
this as a command to repair the church of San Damiano, near Assisi. He resolved to become a hermit, and devoted
himself to repairing the church. His father, angry and embarrassed by Francis' behavior, imprisoned him and
brought him before the bishop as disobedient. Francis abandoned all his rights and possessions, including his
clothes. Two years later he felt himself called to preach, and was soon joined by companions. When they numbered
eleven he gave them a short Rule and received approval from Pope Innocent III for the brotherhood, which Francis
called the Friars Minor.
The friars traveled throughout central Italy and beyond, preaching for people to turn from the world to Christ. In
his life and preaching, Francis emphasized simplicity and poverty, relying on God's providence rather than worldly
goods. The brothers worked or begged for what they needed to live, and any surplus was given to the poor. Francis
turned his skills as a troubadour to the writing of prayers and hymns.
In 1212, Saint Clara Sciffi, a girl from a noble family of Assisi, left her family to join Francis. With his
encouragement she founded a sisterhood at San Damiano, the Poor Ladies, later the Poor Clares.
One of Saint Francis's most famous sermons is one he gave to a flock of birds. One day while Francis and some
friars were traveling along the road, Francis looked up and saw the trees full of birds. Francis "left his companions
in the road and ran eagerly toward the birds" and "humbly begged them to listen to the word of God." One of the
friars recorded the sermon, which overflows with Francis's love for creation and its Creator: "My brothers, birds,
you should praise your Creator very much and always love him; he gave you feathers to clothe you, wings so that
you can fly, and whatever else was necessary for you. God made you noble among his creatures, and he gave you
a home in the purity of the air; though you neither sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you
without any solicitude on your part."
Thomas of Celano records that the birds stretched their necks and extended their wings as Francis walked among
them touching and blessing them. This event was a turning point of sorts for Francis. "He began to blame himself
for negligence in not having preached to the birds before" and "from that day on, he solicitously admonished the
birds, all animals and reptiles, and even creatures that have no feeling, to praise and love their Creator."
In time the brotherhood became more organized. As large numbers of people, attracted to the preaching and
example of Francis, joined him, Francis had to delegate responsibility to others. Eventually he wrote a more
detailed Rule, which was further revised by the new leaders of the Franciscans. He gave up leadership of the Order
and went to the mountains to live in secluded prayer. There he received the Stigmata, the wounds of Christ. He
returned to visit the Franciscans, and Clara and her sisters, and a few of his followers remained with him. He died
at the Porziuncula on October 3, 1226.
Saint Francis called for simplicity of life, poverty, and humility before God. He worked to care for the poor, and one
of his first actions after his conversion was to care for lepers. Thousands were drawn to his sincerity, piety, and joy.
In all his actions, Francis sought to follow fully and literally the way of life demonstrated by Christ in the Gospels.
His respect and appreciation for creation was profound because it always led him to the Creator.
For Francis, the Eucharist became the deepest source of support for his desire for peace and reconciliation. Just
two years before he died, St. Francis said: "I beseech all of you, by whatever charity I can, that you show
reverence and all honor to the most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, because (in Him) all things,
whether on earth or in heaven have been pacified and reconciled with Almighty God".
Every year on the Sunday nearest his October 4 feast day, Catholic and other Christian churches around the world
host services where animals are blessed. These services are a powerful way to celebrate both Francis's and God's
compassionate concern for all creatures.
Francis is well known for the "Canticle of Brother Sun." Written late in the saint's life, when blindness had limited
his sight of the outside world, the canticle shows that his imagination was alive with love for creation.
Saint Francis consented to being ordained to the Diaconate, but not to the Priesthood. Probably no saint has
affected so many in so many different ways as the gentle Saint of Assisi who, born to wealth, devoted his life to
poverty, concern for the poor and the sick, and so delighted in God's works as revealed in nature.
"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion
and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men."
+ Saint Francis of Assisi
The Canticle of the Sun,
Also known as The Canticle of the Creatures
by Saint Francis of Assisi
Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honor, and all blessing,
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no human is worthy to mention Your name.
Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor;
and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.
Reflections About Saint Francis...
From St. Bonaventure:
“Francis sought occasion to love God in everything. He delighted in all the works of God's hands and from the
vision of joy on earth his mind soared aloft to the life-giving source and cause of all. In everything beautiful, he
saw him who is beauty itself, and he followed his Beloved everywhere by his likeness imprinted on creation; of all
creation he made a ladder by which he might mount up and embrace him who is all-desirable. By the power of his
extraordinary faith he tasted the Goodness which is the source of all in each and every created thing, as in so
many rivulets. He seemed to perceive a divine harmony in the interplay of powers and faculties given by God to his
creatures and like the prophet David he exhorted them all to praise God."
+ Major Life of St. Francis
"His attitude towards creation was simple and direct, as simple as the gaze of a dove; as he considered the
universe, in his pure, spiritual vision, he referred every created thing to the Creator of all. He saw God in
everything, and loved and praised him in all creation. By God's generosity and goodness, he possessed God in
everything and everything in God. The realization that everything comes from the same source made him call all
created things–no matter how insignificant–his brothers and sisters, because they had the same origins as he."
+ Minor Life of St. Francis
From Thomas of Celano:
"For who could ever give expression to the very great affection he bore for all things that are God's? Who would be
able to narrate the sweetness he enjoyed while contemplating in creatures the wisdom of their Creator, his power
and his goodness? Indeed, he was very often filled with a wonderful and ineffable joy from this consideration while
he looked upon the sun, while he beheld the moon, and while he gazed upon the stars and the firmament. O
simple piety and pious simplicity! Toward little worms even he glowed with a very great love, for he had read this
saying about the Savior: I am a worm, not a man. Therefore he picked them up from the road and placed them in
a safe place, lest they be crushed by the feet of the passersby. What shall I say of the lower creatures, when he
would see to it that the bees would be provided with honey in the winter, or the best wine, lest they should die
from the cold? He used to praise in public the perfection of their works and the excellence of their skill, for the
glory of God, with such encomiums that would often spend a whole day in praising them and the rest of
creatures... This man, filled with the spirit of God, never ceased to glorify, praise, and bless the Creator and Ruler
of all things in all the elements and creatures."
"How great a gladness do you think the beauty of the flowers brought to his mind when he saw the shape of their
beauty and perceived the odor of their sweetness? ...When he found an abundance of flowers, he preached to
them and invited them to praise the Lord as though they were endowed with reason. In the same way he exhorted
with the sincerest purity cornfields and vineyards, stones and forests and all the beautiful things of the fields,
fountains of water and the green things of the gardens, earth and fire, air and wind, to love God and serve him
willingly. Finally, he called all creatures brother, and in a most extraordinary manner never experienced by others,
he discerned the hidden things of nature with his sensitive heart, as one who had already escaped into the freedom
of the glory of the sons of God. "
+ The First Life of St. Francis
From Saint John Paul II:
“Francis and Clare not only became brother and sister to every human being but to all animate and inanimate
creatures. In contemplating nature, when Francis discovers that everything speaks to him of God, his eyes are
filled with joy and he exclaims in the Canticle of Brother Sun: everything ‘...from you Most High, bears significance’
“Dear young people, may you too learn to look at your neighbor and at creation with God's eyes. Mainly respect its
summit, which is the human person. At the school of such excellent teachers, learn the careful and attentive use of
goods. Do your utmost to see that they are better distributed and shared, with full respect for the rights of every
person. In reading the great book of creation, may your spirit open to grateful praise to the Creator."
+ Address "Young People to Assisi," August 26, 2001
“In 1979, I proclaimed Saint Francis of Assisi as the heavenly Patron of those who promote ecology. He offers
Christians an example of genuine and deep respect for the integrity of creation. As a friend of the poor who was
loved by God's creatures, Saint Francis invited all of creation–animals, plants, natural forces, even Brother Sun and
Sister Moon–to give honor and praise to the Lord. The poor man of Assisi gives us striking witness that when we
are at peace with God we are better able to devote ourselves to building up that peace with all creation which is
inseparable from peace among all peoples.
“It is my hope that the inspiration of Saint Francis will help us to keep ever alive a sense of ‘fraternity’ with all
those good and beautiful things which Almighty God has created.”
+ Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation, Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January, 1990
From Sister Marjorie Keenan, RSHM:
“Saint Francis of Assisi fully understood this mysterious relationship between the world and the person seized by
God's love. At times, Francis could perhaps seem to us to be too simple, too naive, to content our complicated
modern minds. We pass far too quickly over his suffering, his hard and penitential life, his long hours of
contemplation, his courage in face of the challenges of his time. What was the fruit of this life entirely given to
God? A man that the animals considered their friend; a man who considered the sun and the moon as members of
his family; a mendicant monk who gave all to the poor and who called death his sister. Francis dared to plumb the
depths of the mystery of creation: everything was created for the glory of God; everything should render God this
From Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:
“There is a story that goes as follows: Francis told the brother responsible for the garden never to plant the whole
area with vegetables but to leave part of the garden for flowers, so that at every season of the year it may produce
our sisters, the flowers, out of love for she who is called ‘the flower of the field and the lily of the valley’ (Song
2:1). In the same way Francis wanted there always to be a particularly beautiful flower bed, so that, at all times,
people would be moved by the sight of flowers to praise God...
“We cannot take this story and simply leave the religious element to one side as the relic of a bygone era, while
appreciating its refusal of mean utility and its appreciation of the wealth of species. This would in no way
correspond to what Francis did and intended. Above all, however, this story contains none of the bitterness that is
directed against human beings (for their alleged interference in nature) such as one detects in so many
conservationist manifestos today. When man himself is out of joint and can no longer affirm himself, nature cannot
flourish. On the contrary: man must first be in harmony with himself; only then can he enter into harmony with
creation and it with him. And this is only possible if he is in harmony with the Creator who designed both nature
and us. Respect for man and respect for nature go together, but ultimately both can flourish and find their true
measure only, if, in man and nature, we respect the Creator and his creation. The two only harmonize in
relationship with the Creator. We shall assuredly never find the lost equilibrium if we refuse to press forward and
discover this relationship. Let Francis of Assisi, then, make us reflect; let him set us on the right path.”
+ Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Seek that Which is Above: Meditations Through the Year. Trans. Graham Harrison
(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), 176.
From Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O' Connor, Retired Archbishop of Westminster:
"Saint Francis of Assisi arranged with a friend in a village in central Italy to stage the first live crib, and it was
Francis who first gave pride of place to the ox and the ass, convinced that if such animals had been there in the
stable in Bethlehem, they would somehow be aware that it was a privilege to warm the air the infant Jesus would
breath. There are well-known episodes in the life of Francis that show he was convinced that the birth of Christ
affected the whole of creation. He felt it was his duty to preach the Gospel not only to people, but also to birds and
other creatures. His insight is behind the Franciscan tradition of care for nature, and is what we might call the seed
of a medieval program of Christian ecology."
+ Excerpt from his Homily for Christmas 2007
From Saint Bernadine of Siena:
"Saint Francis was so possessed of purity that they say and maintain that to him was granted the first innocence,
as Adam was before he sinned. And wherefore this is to be believed, let us see the reason. How may it be known?
It is said that if Adam had not sinned, every beast, every bird, would have obeyed him, and all the elements,
water, air, fire, earth, the fruits, the plants, the fishes, and in like manner every created thing...
He, Saint Francis, had these graces, hence we may suppose that he had that same innocence which Adam had
before he sinned. He had power over air, over land, over fire, and over water... Further, concerning the fishes, we
have it that when he spoke they stayed to listen, and so likewise the birds. We have it that...while he was
preaching, the noise of the swallows was troublesome to him, and he ordered that they be quiet, and so they
obeyed and stayed to listen to him. Moreover we have it that once a hare fleeing before the dogs, sought safety in
the bosom of Saint Francis, and after that they had passed on he let it go away. And hereby thou seest that the
elements and the beasts and the birds obeyed him."
+ Saint Bernadine of Siena (1380-1444), Sermon about Saint Francis, from Sermons, Selected and edited by Don
NAZARENO ORLANDI, Translated by HELEN JOSEPHINE ROBINS, SIENA, TIPOGRAJ-IA SOOIALB, 1920
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