Franciscan Spirit Blog

Saint Francis and Pope Francis: Our Environmental Teachers

I’ve read several reviews of Mariel Hemingway’s memoir, Out Came the Sun: Overcoming the Legacy of Mental Illness, Addiction, and Suicide in My Family. One of her strategies for steering clear of the tragedies that plagued her family and maintaining a balanced, healthy life struck me as a practice that would benefit many of us. Her strategy is spending as much time in nature as she can. She hikes, bikes, swims, and enjoys being outdoors. It may seem like a small point, but the benefits can be great.

Nature embraces us with beauty and gives us a new perspective. We can’t think we are the center of the universe when we study the sky. By getting away from the screen—computer or TV—we can gain the positive energy of poet E. E. Cummings: “I thank you God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”

But even more important, for me, is that spending time outside in nature can draw us to God. “The heavens proclaim the glory of God,” the psalmist declares. God speaks to us through the world he has made. Creation reflects the goodness and beauty of the Creator.

I’ve always loved walking on the beach or in the woods. Rivers fascinate me. The powerful waters never stop. In the woods, you see tiny wild violets and giant oaks, birds, and squirrels. For the 20 years I lived in the inner city, parks where I could walk and pray were my salvation. As a college seminarian, after Morning Prayer, Mass, and breakfast, walking for 10 to 15 minutes was mandatory, even in winter. It was a healthy awakening before class.


Saint Francis, Lover of All Creation

Saint Francis of Assisi is my model. He saw the world as a paradise and everything in it as gifts of the Father. Every person was a unique expression of God’s image and likeness.

To share God’s goodness and love, Francis walked from town to town, sometimes singing. He took delight in Brother Sun, Sister Water, and Brother Wind. But his deepest source of joy was his conviction that God loved him and all of creation. His great song of praise was “The Canticle of the Creatures,” “Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures. . . .”

In the opening lines of his new encyclical, Pope Francis says it all: “Praise be to you, my Lord. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. ‘Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.’ This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”

The pope urges us to take action to preserve the world that God has given us so that all the Mariel Hemingways and future generations can be nourished and transformed.

In Caring for Creation, Pope Francis’ words reveal that he believes we can move toward a new kind of conversion—a higher level of consciousness, action, and advocacy that will spark “a bold cultural revolution.”

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