15 August 2007

Saint Francis of Assisi

Patron Saint of the Sublime

Doesn't matter if you believe in god or not. Saint Francis of Assisi was the man; Patron Saint of the Sublime. He drank heavily, he loved to read, he wasn't obsessed with riches and above all, he loved animals and they loved him. He understood there was more to this world and it was to be found in our four legged friends who can't speak.

He is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment, and it is customary for Catholic churches to hold ceremonies honouring animals around his feast day which is October 4th.

Francis was rebellious toward his father - a prominent businessman - and his pursuit of wealth.

He spent most of his youth lost in books - ironically, his father's wealth afforded his son an excellent education, and he became fluent in reading several languages including Latin.

Francis was also known for drinking and enjoying the company of his many friends, who were usually the sons of nobles.

His displays of disillusionment toward the world that surrounded him became evident fairly early, one of which is shown in "the story of the beggar."

In this account, Francis found himself out having fun with his friends one day when a beggar came along and asked for alms. While his friends ignored the beggar's cries, Francis gave the man everything he had in his pockets. His friends mocked him for his act of charity, and when he got home, his father scolded him in a rage.

But most of the stories that surround the life of Saint Francis deal with his love for animals.

Perhaps the most famous incident that illustrates the Francis' humility towards nature is recounted in the Fioretti or The Little Flowers, a collection of legends and folk-lore that sprang up after his death.

It is said that one day while Francis was traveling with some companions they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to “wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds.”

The birds surrounded him, drawn by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away. Francis spoke to them:
"My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you…you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore… always seek to praise God."
Another legend from the Fioretti tells us that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, there was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals.”

Francis had compassion upon the people of the town, and went up into the hills to find the wolf.

Soon fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, but Francis pressed on and when he found the wolf he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one.

Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and laid down at his feet.
Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil…” said Francis. “All these people accuse you and curse you…But brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.”
Then Francis led the wolf into the town, and surrounded by startled citizens he made a pact between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger” the people of the town were to feed the wolf regularly, and in return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks.

In this manner the city of Gubbio was freed from the menace of the predator. Francis, ever the lover of animals, even made a pact on behalf of the town dogs, that they would not bother the wolf again, too.

These legends exemplify the Franciscan mode of charity and poverty as well as the saint's love of the natural world.

Part of his appreciation of the environment is expressed in his Canticle of the Sun, a poem written in Italian in the year 1224 which expresses a love and appreciation of "Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Mother Earth, Brother Fire, " etc. and all of God's creations personified in their fundamental forms. In "Canticle of the Creatures," he wrote:
"All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures."
It is believed that Saint Francis thanked his donkey at his bedside for carrying and helping him throughout his life, as his donkey wept.

Statue of Francis dancing on water

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We so need to follow the example of St Francis. We are all God's creation. We should not use or abuse animals the way we do. I find it hard to understand why there is so little compassion. And I know most people find it hard to understand why I feel this way about animals. I believe animals - all animals - are so much closer to God than man. they are truly innocent. They will have no judgement on that day, but we have so much to answer for.