October 1, 2012: Saint Francis of Assisi–Patron of Animals & Ecology

~by Joseph Kaiser

Each year in the first week of October, Christian churches of various denominations hold a traditional “Blessing of the Animals.” The blessing of animals is done on a day near October 4th because that is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is renown not only as the founder of the Franciscan Orders, but also for his love of animals.

Born in 1182, St Francis at age 26 turned his back on a promising career as a cloth merchant, like his father. He also gave up his ambition to become a knight. Instead, he embraced “Lady Poverty” as his spouse. Soon afterward, he was joined by a few like-minded men. He then sought and received permission from the Pope to form an Order. He called his group: Order of Friars Minor. The “Minor” was to remind them of the humility expected of them. Then, within a few short years he found that he had stoked a wildfire. The first general meeting of the Franciscan Order was held in 1220 with 5000 Friars from all over Europe in attendance.

St. Francis’ love of animals was different than for most of us. Many of us can say we love animals, and actually do, but to St. Francis, the animals were his brothers and sisters. In fact St. Francis felt a kinship with all of God’s creation. He expressed this beautifully in his Canticle of the Creatures:

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord, all praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through all you have made, and first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and through whom you give us light. How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor; Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

All Praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them,bright, and precious, and fair.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brothers wind and air, and fair and stormy, all the weather’s moods, by which you cherish all that you have made.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water, so useful, humble, precious and pure.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten up the night. How beautiful is he, how cheerful! Full of power and strength.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through those who grant pardon for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy are those who endure in peace, By You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Then, as his death was approaching, he added the following stanza:

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death, From whose embrace no mortal can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your will! The second death can do them no harm. Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks. And serve him with great humility.

St. Francis’ legendary feeling of kinship with animals is shown by three familiar stories. The first concerns the wolf of Gubbio. The wolf was terrorizing the people of the town of Gubbio. They enlisted the help of St. Francis. St. Francis convinced the townspeople that the wolf meant no harm. It was just doing what was natural for him when he was hungry. He also convinced his brother wolf to become tame as any domesticated pet. Afterward the townspeople were no longer afraid; they fed the wolf who always entered the town peacefully.

The second legend concerns St. Francis’ preaching to the birds. Once, while he was preaching in the town square of Saburniano, he commanded the swallows to keep silent until he finished. The swallows obeyed. As St. Francis and his companions were journeying on, he looked up and saw a great multitude of birds. He said to his companions, “Tarry here for me by the way, and I will go preach to my little sisters, the birds.” As he began to preach, more birds joined the flock. He told them to be grateful for all that God gives them: for their freedom, for their food, and for the feathers with which they are clothed. The birds did not fly away until St. Francis blessed them.

The third is the creation of the first Creche, or Nativity Scene. It was in the year 1223, on a hillside outside Greccio, that St. Francis sought to reproduce the stable of Bethlehem. Having received permission from the Pope, Francis set up a manger with hay and brought a live ox and donkey. There Midnight Mass was celebrated, with St. Francis, who was a deacon, chanting the gospel. Some in attendance had a vision of Jesus sleeping in the crib.

St. Francis died in 1226, and was canonized by Pope Gregory IX in 1228. Pope John Paul II, in his message on January 1, 1990, World Day of Peace, said this:

“In 1979, I proclaimed Saint Francis of Assisi as the heavenly Patron of those who promote ecology. He offers Christians an example of genuine and deep respect for the integrity of creation. As a friend of the poor who was loved by God’s creatures, Saint Francis invited all of creation – animals, plants, natural forces, even Brother Sun and Sister Moon – to give honor and praise to the Lord. The poor man of Assisi gives us striking witness that when we are at peace with God we are better able to devote ourselves to building up that peace with all creation which is inseparable from peace among all peoples.
It is my hope that the inspiration of Saint Francis will help us to keep ever alive a sense of fraternity with all those good and beautiful things which Almighty God has created.”

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Joe has gone to be with the Lord. We continue to keep his articles available to inspire and remind us all of the greatness of a Loving God. Following a stint in the Navy, Joe Kaiser received a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Kentucky, where he and his wife of 62 years, Mary, grew up. Following college, Joe had a 50-year career in technical and marketing communications. Always active in parish life, Joe was ordained deacon in Springfield, MA, and is now retired and living in Sarasota, FL.

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