Victoria Lim examines the Saint’s relationship with creation and the takeaways.
St Francis’ relationship with creation continues to inspire many till this day. Contrary to popular belief, the Season of Creation is not just about going green, it appeals to us to care for all of God’s creation, which includes humankind.
This care, involves us upholding the dignity of every human person. That God created each one of us unique, and that no human being should be used as a means of achieving certain ends, as when a person is sold into slavery. It means respecting the individual and relating with one another with a sense of wonder that arises in the presence of something holy and sacred, as when we are captivated by the smile of a child.
In his encyclical, Laudato si (LS), Pope Francis spoke of St Francis’ joy, generous self-giving and his care for all of creation. “He lived in simplicity and 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.” (LS, 10)
Let us ponder on two moments in St Francis’ life that changed his relationship with God’s creation:
Brother Thomas of Celano, biographer of the saint wrote that as St Francis began to think of holy and higher things, God gave him the grace to encounter a leper. During that time, St Francis as with many of his contemporaries, scorned and avoided lepers for fear of the infectious disease. This time, however, by the grace of God, St Francis went near the leper and kissed him.
Thereafter, having renounced all worldly things, St Francis was drawn again to the lepers and spent time washing and caring for their wounds.
In his testament, St Francis praised and thanked God for his time with the lepers, “And the Lord himself led me among them and I had mercy upon them. And when I left them, that which seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of soul and body.” It became apparent to St Francis that the leper whom he had embraced was Christ Himself.
The wolf at Gubbio
In the account “The Little Flowers of Saint Francis”, a wolf had appeared in the town of Gubbio and began to devour animals and attack the townsfolk.
St Francis decided to meet the wolf. As soon as the wolf caught sight of St Francis, it tried to attack him. He did not flee in terror; instead, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf not to hurt him or the townspeople. And the wolf obeyed him and laid at his feet.
Establishing a sense of commonality with the creature, Francis addressed the wolf as “Brother Wolf”. He told Brother Wolf of the pain it was causing the community and asked for forgiveness on behalf of the people for any harm done to him. He also asked Brother Wolf not to terrify the people of Gubbio. The creature responded and laid its paws on his hand as a sign of peace and agreement. Brother Wolf upheld his promise and remained in peaceful existence with the people.
Respect and love for all of creation
In the creation account, God created humankind in his image and likeness. He blessed them and said to them “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:29) Human beings are the greatest of all that God had created and the world that He had made is for us. He gave humans the authority to ‘subdue’ and ‘have dominion’ over all he had created. Human beings are not to kill and treat all life with respect.
Instead of looking at the leper with detest, St Francis sowed love, and consoled the leper. Rather than killing Brother Wolf at Gubbio, he sought and pardoned him. He chose love and respect for all that God had created. Will we discharge our stewardship over the earth with love and respect like St Francis? Will we exercise our God-given authority over creation with similar awe and wonder? Or will we violate, destroy and disregard the beauty of the earth, its creatures and one another as the world is doing now?
The choice lies with you and me. As we end the Season of Creation, may we, continue to care for our common home with the spirit of St Francis.