Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) – the Patron Saint of animals and ecology – is one of the most venerated religious figures in history. His radiant spirit serves as a beacon for those seeking a life of meaning and service. Yet, rather than placing him on a pedestal, we should emulate his path of peace, openness, mysticism, poverty, reverence for nature and love of animals.
Many of the stories that surround the life of Saint Francis deal with his love for animals. Perhaps the most famous incident that illustrates the Saint’s humility towards nature is recounted in the Fioretti (Little Flowers), a collection of legends and folklore that sprang up after the Saint’s death.
It is said that once while Francis was traveling with companions, they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to “wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds.” The birds surrounded him, intrigued by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away.
Francis taught in the Catholic Church that the world was created good and beautiful by God, but suffers a need for redemption because of the primordial sin of man. He preached to man and beast the universal ability and duty of all creatures to praise God – a common theme in the Psalms – and the duty of men to protect and enjoy nature as the stewards of God’s creation. It is said that while on his deathbed, Saint Francis thanked his donkey for carrying and helping him throughout his life. The donkey wept in response.
There are various ways you can honor the Feast of Saint Francis. (The official feast date is October 4.) Many local churches will hold Blessing of the Animals services this weekend. For example, the Catholic Church of the Ascension in nearby Hurricane will hold a pet blessing Sunday, October 2, at 4:00 p.m. Attend a ceremony and take your pets (or photos of them).
Visit the Animal Rescue Site on the Internet. One click gives free food and care to animals in need. Click the site daily; you may also add the Animal Rescue Site to your Facebook page. Donate to The Humane Society or adopt a pet. Learn about the Humane Society’s faith outreach program here. You can volunteer at the Charleston/Kanawha Humane Association. They need help in many ways, including pet walking, bathing, and animal touch and socialism. You may also donate to the Association, or become a foster parent for a pet until it finds a permanent home.
Take a walk outdoors and listen to nature. A nice place for a spiritual walk is the labyrinth at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Charleston. As you walk, appreciate deeply the birds, squirrels, and other creatures of nature and how they fit into the mystical web of life. As you walk, meditate on Saint Francis’s love for animals and his reverence for nature.
Finally, you can say the prayer of St. Francis, located here.