Season of Creation 2022: Celebrating Saint Francis of Assisi
Most of my life, when I heard the words “Saint Francis of Assisi,” I immediately imaged the “holy card” depiction that many of my generation knew: That of a monk, with bird resting on his hand, and animals at his feet, with bushes and trees nearby.
Certainly, I equated him with a lover of God’s creation. As I grew older, I learned of Francis’ “Canticle of the Creatures” and the image made all the more sense to me.
However, it was in preparation for my pilgrimage to Assisi when I was at Marian University that I really began to ponder the life of Saint Francis and get in touch with “the real Francis.”
Who was Saint Francis of Assisi?
Born into a family of wealth, Francis apparently lived a “worldly” and wild life until age 20. He went off to war at age 20 and was held prisoner for nearly a year. After his release, he became seriously ill.
After he recovered, aspiring to knighthood, he left to join the papal army. Along the way, he had a vision or dream, beckoning him to return to Assisi to “rebuild my Church.”
Shortly after his return, and much to the dismay of his father, he renounced all of his worldly possessions to dedicate himself to a life of solitude and prayer.
It was at that time that he began to embrace (literally) the lepers who had been relegated to an area outside the city walls and at the foot of the hills of Assisi, an area where the sewage of the city would run.
Francis, who had for years found the lepers so abhorrent, became caregiver and brother to them.
Over the years, as Francis spent much of his time outdoors as he begged for alms and made caves his home for prayer, he became more attuned to understanding the interconnectedness of all of creation.
His “Canticle of the Creatures” is a testament of his commitment to that belief.
In his watershed environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis spoke eloquently of Francis’ unswerving belief in that interconnectedness: “I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically … He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast … He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.”
What might hold us back?
As we close this year’s “Season of Creation,” I can’t help but ask myself, “What holds me back from embracing all of creation as gift to be reverenced? What comforts, desires, possessions, or lifestyle choices have such a hold on me that I cannot see all of creation as Francis did? Our entire planet Earth is ‘down and out,’ crying out for help as were the lepers of Francis’ day. What keeps me from responding with outreached hand and open heart to help heal the terrible sores we have inflicted on our beloved Earth?”
Today, let each of us commit ourselves to becoming more like Francis, that the choices we make – indeed, our very lives – might bespeak our oneness with all of creation.
And may we be impelled to action and advocacy, that together, we the Providence Community, might, like Francis, show “just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.”