October 4th is the Saint’s day of Saint Francis. Since we were closed for the national holiday (Happy National Day to all our Chinese friends!) we missed our chance to celebrate this important day.
1209 was a long time ago. That was the year Saint Francis decided to form a religious order in the church. He called his order the “Friars Minor,” which means “Littlest Brothers.” Perhaps people found this name too humble. Instead people called them “Franciscans,” which is what these monks and nuns are called to this day. Within five years of the founding of the order, there were 5,000 members.
Francis never asked anyone to join his order. They just came. What brought them, was Francis’ firm and steadfast devotion, and his determination to do good things, like rebuild the church, care for lepers, and spend time in prayer.
People are deeply affected by kindness and example. When good acts are done, this makes people pay attention, and think. How do we know the good we do by example? If we give money, someone may set up a plaque or they may name a building in our name. But when we give ourselves there is a spiritual reverberation in the universe.
Francis called all creatures “brothers” and “sisters” and loved Nature, which he considered to be the “mirror of God on earth.” And isn’t that so? I can’t think of anyone who feels less close to the divine in nature than inside a building. Francis talked about “Sister Water” and “Brother Tree.” They say the rabbits would come to him for protection, and it is said that he preached to trees full of “Sister Birds” in which he encouraged them to sing as a prayer of thanks to God.
Saint Francis’ attention to the creation is a real inspiration for us today. As recent smoggy and hot days in Shanghai show us, pollution is a real problem in our world and efforts to clean up the environment and find alternative paths for energy production is vital if we are not going to end up poisoning ourselves. Respect for the earth is critical. Saint Francis’ idea of brotherhood with all creatures, the humility and willingness to live in the simplest of ways which inspired his life style, and his constant praise to the divine for the gifts of nature is true inspiration. Did you know that Saint Francis has been declared the patron saint of environmentalists in the Catholic Church?
Actually, this is much more than an ecological love for nature. Francis could see God everywhere, in people too, and this is inspiring too. He saw God’s presence in everyone. In 1219, when the West was having crusades to “defend the faith,” Francis went to the Middle East and tried to convert the Sultan of Egypt, not through war but with peace. He did not succeed, but his time with the Sultan left him with a deep impression and respect. Saint Francis is one of the Fathers of peaceful evangelization, of respect for other religions.
You can read more about his time with the Sultan in the book, The Saint and the Sultan, which you can read about online at: http://www.bustedhalo.com/features/the-saint-and-the-sultan
May we learn from him, and learn to call every creature our sister and brother, and be instruments of God’s kindness and peace.