Artists often depict St. Francis surrounded by animals, birds
and flowers as if they all make up one happy family. This is not just a hyped-up picture
of the saint created by sentimental nature-lovers. It captures something very true and
profound about the saint. Francis' earliest biographers, who wrote during his lifetime,
tell of his preaching to birds and his encounters with a variety of creatures, as well
as his addressing them as Sister Lark, Sister Cricket, Brother
Rabbit, and so forth.
It is, moreover, an accepted historical fact that St. Francis is the
author of the Canticle of Brother Sun, sometimes known as the Canticle of the
Creatures. What this song and his many interactions with animals tell us about St.
Francis is that he did not perceive himself as isolated from other creatures. Obviously,
he simply assumed that all creatures—not only humans—form one family of creation.
Even when we pray, its good to invite the other creatures to praise God with us,
just as Francis did in his canticle: All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that
you have made—first of all, through my lord Brother Sun...through Sister Moon and
through Brother Wind...and Sister Water
and Brother Fire
Earth, our mother.
This familial sense of oneness with all creatures is closely linked with
St. Francis love for the feast of Christmas and his understanding of the Incarnation.
In Francis mind and heart, if God really entered the family of creation, this event
should really revolutionize our thinking about the world. Not only did the Incarnation
bestow a great value on humans, but it also blessed and enriched other creatures as well.
The whole fabric of creation took on an elevated dignity and meaning.
This is why the feast of Christmas meant so much to Francis and why he
wanted the whole of creation to be part of the celebration. St. Francis himself initiated
the popular tradition of the Christmas crèche. The custom goes back to the year
1223, when Francis invited the townspeople of Greccio, Italy, to gather at a cave outside
the village to reenact the first Christmas.
St. Francis asked the people to bring along an ox and an ass and sheep
and real straw in a real manger. Francis wanted to have animals around the crib because
he had a deep sense that these creatures belong there because they too were deeply affected
by the birth of Christ and his saving love. By right, all creatures should participate
in the celebration of Christmas.
St. Francis biographers give us additional evidence that he strongly
believed that all creatures should share in the Christmas blessing. These writers inform
us that St. Francis wanted the emperor to ask all citizens to scatter grain along the roads
on Christmas Day so that the birds and other animals would have plenty to eat. The beasts
in the stables, too, should be given richer fare on the feast of Christmas and even the
walls should be rubbed with food.
If St. Francis were alive today, I believe he would encourage us to include
more and more creatures in our celebration of Christmas. If we have pets, he might suggest
that we give Brother Dog or Sister Cat a special treat on Christmas Day—or at least
that we toss a few more sunflower seeds on the bird feeder!
p.s. Its still early enough to get copies of my book St.
Francis in San Francisco for Christmas. See the ad to the right for details.
respond to Friar Jims Catechism
Quiz: What Is the Communion of Saints?
Dear Friar Jim: “At the present time, some are still living
as pilgrims on earth (ourselves). Others are in glory, contemplating in full light, God
himself triune and one, exactly as he is (heaven). Still others have died and are being
purified (purgatory).” What happened to hell? Megan
Dear Megan: There is still a hell, but I was talking about the
Communion of Saints and Mystical Body of Christ and all those who are saved. Thats
the reason why there was no reference to hell. For more information, check
my article on hell. Friar Jim
Dear Friar Jim: If Christ paid our sin debt in full by his blood
on the cross, why is there such a thing as purgatory? Doesnt the idea of purgatory
mean Christs death was in vain? Where in the New Testament does it say we die
and if were not pure enough we go there? Thank you for your attention to this. My
priests couldnt find it in the Bible and I was wondering where it was. Gerrie
Dear Gerrie: An article I wrote last year ( Part
I | Part
II ) provides a fuller explanation of purgatory, which is a very important aspect
of our theology. Friar Jim
Dear Friar Jim: Are you saying that our dead loved ones are in
purgatory until Jesus returns? It's hard for me to hold on to the fact that when I die
no one will say prayers for my parents specifically anymore. My father has been dead for
10 years and my mother for five. Are they still in purgatory? Cindy
Dear Cindy: Dont worry, really. God is in charge of all
this. No one is in purgatory longer than need be. Millionaires do not have advantage over
poor people because every Mass that is offered is offered for all souls, and each Mass
has infinite value. God is loving and compassionate, infinitely so. Friar Jim
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