Earth Day And St. Francis
In honor of Earth Day, I’d like to share what I think are some fascinating facts about probably the first known figure to honor our planet and all of its inhabitants …
Francis of Assisi lived from 1181 or 1182 – 1226. While he was born into a wealthy family, in early 1209 he heard a sermon that would change his life and the world forever. He was inspired to devote himself to a life of poverty.
He began to attract followers and according to tradition, on April 16, 1210 Pope Innocent III endorsed Francis’ group … and so the Franciscan Order was officially founded.
Although never ordained into the priesthood, Francis was proclaimed a saint by Pope Gregory IX in 1228. He is considered one of the most adored religious figures in history. He became known as the patron saint of animals, the environment and one of the two patron saints of Italy.
Did you know that in 1223 Francis of Assisi was the first person to arrange a Nativity scene, including live animals? Or that in 1224 he received the stigmata, making him the first person in recorded history to bear the wounds of Christ?
Francis admired the work of the Creator in every living creature ... He saw the world of God and the world of nature as one … and taught that all of creation was sacred and we needed to live accordingly.
Francis did not build artificial walls between the natural world and the supernatural … the secular and the sacred ... and often used animals to teach his followers. He “saw even in a bug the sacredness of life.” – Max Scheler, German writer-philosopher
The sculptured image of St. Francis as the bearded little man standing on a birdbath is so popular and “so universal that you can find it as readily in an Episcopalian’s backyard or a Buddhist prayer garden as at a Franciscan retreat center.”
I just discovered a little known piece of information … the popular Prayer of Peace “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace … “ commonly attributed to St. Francis, was not written by him at all. While it clearly embodies his spirit, there is no real evidence to have existed in Francis’ time.
He did author the lesser known CANTICLE OF THE SUN, a poetic song, that simply and clearly expresses his life-long theology of the sanctity of nature, and of our human relationship to the earth and all its creatures.
According to tradition, this song was first sung by St. Francis himself upon his own deathbed.
CANTICLE OF THE SUN
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs …
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve him with great humility.