Saints and Animals: St. Francis of Assisi
On the 28th of February 2013 a Jesuit from Argentina was elected Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. His election was a first in many ways: the first Jesuit Pope, the first Pope from the New World, and the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere. This new Pope was also the first to adopt the name of Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. This choice in name was no accident, St. Francis is beloved by many for his compassion and humility.
St. Francis grew up in a time where many felt that the Church had lost its way. Heresies were spreading in the countryside and the Church appeared opulent and aloof. Francis himself grew up the wealthy son of a merchant and lived a lavish lifestyle. He intended to become a soldier but changed his mind when he fell ill and began to have dreams and visions of a religious life. It was after this that St. Francis founded the Franciscan order in an attempt to revitalize the Church through humility and service to the marginalized.
In addition to his simple life and commitment to the poor, St. Francis had a number of interactions with animals and is considered to be their patron saint. Many a garden statue of Francis depicts him with birds as he was known to preach the gospel to birds. In another story, he convinces a wolf to quit eating livestock in exchange for food from the townspeople.
St. Francis’ love toward nature and animals is in many ways surprising considering neither has often been included within Christian sympathies. However, for Francis this is a thoroughly Christian understanding of the goodness of God’s creation. All that has been created (not just humans) have a duty to worship God and as stewards of creation, humans in particular have a responsibility to care for nature. It is no surprise that we look to St. Francis of Assisi during this time of environmental destruction, global warming, and cruelty towards animals. He points to a Christian way of interacting with nature that takes into account our responsibility for its care.
Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.