Remembering St. Francis the Patron Saint of the Environment
Faith and Reason working together to DO something to help heal our toxic world
Brother Sun, Sister Moon
Brother Sun and Sister Moon
I seldom see you seldom hear your tune
Preoccupied with selfish misery
Brother Wind and Sister Air
Open my eyes to visions pure and fair
That I may see the glory around me – Donovan, based on St.Francis poem
This week, Oct.4, was the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, who died almost 800 years ago. While it is most certainly an important event for Catholics and non Catholic Franciscans like me, you may be asking: “what has this eccentric Italian to do with our modern age and our modern problems?” Everything. He is the first European to explicitly awaken a consciousness that human and non-human share a common glory, a common past and a common future. He recognized and lived out and most importantly expanded the boundary of the old wisdom that “as we do onto others so will it be done onto me” by including in the word “other” not just people of other cultures or religions but also ALL creatures and ALL creation. It is a message that we today would be well to heed as we are just beginning to assign value and legal “personhood” to entities of the non human world – whether that be an owl or a lake. What Francis helps us see that this “new” perspective is not actually new within our culture: it has only lain dormant and ignored [by most] for 800 years.
I became a 3rd Order Franciscan over 10 years ago, around the same time I joined CACOR. Both choices stemmed from the same desire: to find a way to allow my children and grandchildren to enjoy a world as bountiful as the one I had grown up in. I see them as complimentary: the Franciscan path being more intuitive and CACOR being more focussed on logic and analysis. What both have in common is the focus on [eventual] ACTION. For example, St. Francis said something like this: “In all ways preach the Gospel, using words only as a last resort.” His “preaching” was always action based. When he heard a voice telling him to “rebuild my Church” he literally started collecting stones to rebuild a fallen down chapel. When he was inspired to “help the least” he hugged a leper and worked daily to help the nearby leper colony. When he felt called to bring Peace he entered the fray of the battlefield during the 5th crusade, walked through the battle lines and had a conversation with the Sultan of Egypt about how Peace could be possible between Christian and Moslem; as he considered war a particularly bad way to spread the Gospel and counter to his teachings.
CACOR is the same. We learn so we can do the right thing. We meet others to see how their knowledge is having impact in the world. Always we at CACOR see the necessity of knowledge being the guiding light so proper actions can have the most effective impact in helping to solve our ecological and societal sustainability challenges. Finally, a key point: today there is much rejection of our Western culture because it is seen by many as responsible as the key cause of the destruction of both the natural world and other societies – especially the Indigenous ones. Much of these critiques are valid, but not all. There has always been a thread of a life affirming, non exploitive branch of our culture that has been working hard to heal sundered relationships with both Nature and other cultures. The founding of National Parks, the UN and St. Francis are examples of this other positive and constructive part of Western culture. St. Francis can help us avoid the unhelpful self-loathing that fills some as they consider our current dominant civilization for our culture, like all people, is imperfect and has both wondourful and not so wondourful characteristics. We can use the example of St. Francis to see the good within our culture so that we can constructively move away from the current dominant destructive storyline.
Believe the one who knows that you will find something
Greater in the woods than in books.
Trees and stones will teach that which you can
Never learn from the great masters.
– St.Bernard de Clairvaux, 1115 AD
At this point I know I should present to you what makes St. Francis so special, however, these short essays I do weekly for CACOR do not allow for that. Instead, if you find yourself curious about St. Francis, either watch the 1972 movie “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” or the book by the Greek write Kazantzakis “God’s Pauper”, from which I present an excerpt below.
“The canary began to sing again. The sun had struck it, and its throat and tiny breast had filled with song. Francis gazed at it for a long time, not speaking, his mouth hanging half opened, his eyes dimmed with tears. “The canary is like man’s soul,” he whispered finally. “It sees bars round it, but instead if despairing, it sings. It sings, and wait and see, Brother Leo: one day its song shall break the bars.” ― Nikos Kazantzakis, Saint Francis
I hope that you can now entertain the idea that sometimes Spirit led goals can align with those of reason. Perhaps the example of St. Francis can allow the vision that Faith and Reason are like the 2 legs which we walk upon – they need each other to be effective. Perhaps now you need a more practical view to answer the question “what can I do?”. Here are the words of Art Hunter, a very active CACOR member, that may help you find something you can do:
“Stop burning any fossil fuel, stop travelling, stop buying new stuff, reduce your waste, stop eating meat, grow your own food, electrify everything, generate your own power and heat, fuel your traveling on sunshine, live minimalist without burning. Do this with great enthusiasm & tell everyone about your journey and your creative means to save money and your plan to survive the next big disaster [flood, fire, etc.]. Inflation is hurting you, stop spending. Find another way or do without. Reduce, recycle, reuse, repurpose, share, give away, assist others, be a great neighbour, make, build, downsize, repair, plan ahead on ways you can reduce your carbon footprint. Make this your lifestyle and show others what is possible when you try. Listen and learn from everyone then implement what you learned. Just stop making excuses for your support of the fossil fuel industry. My car is little, old, underused, and is insignificant. Think about it all the time. Try another way and keep experimenting. Just do it.”
I think St.Francis would be proud of Art. There is just one thing St.Francis would add, a VITAL ingredient:
Do all this with JOY. With a glad heart. Without being self absorbed, for all you do is a gift to others, a gift to the future. Don’t criticize others but rather focus on any little good within everybody. Remember, nobody is going to pay attention to you if you are grumpy, focus on what we can do, not what we cannot [without being delusional]. And enjoy yourself as you live a simpler life, that if done properly, should also be a happier life.
Canticle of the Creatures by St.Francis [in part]
Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.
Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.
Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they will be crowned