Friar Jack Muses About St. Francis

As my religious title suggests, I am a Franciscan friar. That means, by definition, I'm tied to St. Francis of Assisi. One thing that makes St. Francis especially appealing to me is his love and respect for birds and animals—indeed, the whole created world. With his feast day (Oct. 4) quickly approaching, now is a good time to share some musings about the saint whom Pope John Paul II named the patron saint of ecology in 1979.

It's not hard for me to write about St. Francis because many thoughts and feelings about him are stored in my heart. As a matter of fact, because of upcoming events, I've been asked to add a special installment of this e-newsletter on Sept. 15. That is the date our Web site launches its annual listing of pet blessings, city by city, around the country.

Why all this interest in animal blessings among the followers of St. Francis? My musings today are in response to that question.

Since early in my Franciscan career, as early as 1970, the following question has haunted me: Why did St. Francis go about the countryside calling every creature he met "brother" or "sister"? Was it just a quaint personality quirk, some eccentricity? Or did it arise from a profound theological insight? I choose to believe the latter.

What, then, was the special instinct that led Francis to call a rabbit or a lark "brother" and "sister"? What made him call out—with genuine sincerity—to "Sister Cricket" or "Brother Wolf"? And what spiritual vision prompted him to compose his "Canticle to Brother Sun," in which he invites all creatures to join him in praising and thanking their all-good maker—"Brother Sun and Sister Moon," "Brother Wind and Sister Water," "Brother Fire" and "Our Sister, Mother Earth"?

Think about it. What spiritual belief do you think stands behind St. Francis' joyful custom of seeing a sister or brother in every creature? I'll give my answer to the question at the end of this e-newsletter.

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In my view, this is why St. Francis saw all creatures as brothers and sisters: He had a profound intuition that all creatures form ONE FAMILY. We humans are not really outside or "over and above" the family of creation. We are within it, part of it. We are not "outside managers." We are not meant to be proud masters over other creatures with the right to selfishly dominate or exploit them at will.

The universe is one interconnected family. We are all sisters and brothers. For St. Francis, it was quite simple: If the sun and moon had the same loving creator in heaven as he, then they are brother and sister to him. It's not just a nice thought: We ARE one family of creation.

In this light, the humble figure of St. Francis standing on birdbaths or surrounded by flowers, plants and shrubs is so right for our times. Such images present the saint as an enlightened human being who sees other creatures as "subjects" with dignity, not as "objects" to be dominated. In real life, St. Francis saw himself as a little brother (a servant or steward) to the birds, the fish, the lowly ivy.

These ideas have great appeal to me because they flow from the Franciscan vision I have come to love. Most recently, I have tried to communicate a bit of this vision and spirituality in the form of a fanciful children's story, "St. Francis in San Francisco." In the story, St. Francis visits modern-day San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

The first thing St. Francis does is talk to the animals in the city's Golden Gate Park and blesses them. For Franciscans, the popular custom of blessing animals flows from St. Francis' insight that we are all from one family of creation. All members of that family are our sisters and brothers. They all deserve our love and respect—and blessings!

You can find out more about Jack Wintz's new children's book "St. Francis in San Francisco" by clicking this link.


KEEP YOUR E-MAILS COMING! Although my hectic schedule makes it impossible to respond personally to your e-mails, I do welcome your comments and suggestions. I take the time to read your emails and helpful feedback—and I pray for you and the needs you share with me. Thanks for your understanding. — Friar Jack

—Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

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