All Creatures Great and Small

From the Director

By Fr. John Burger

“Ask the beasts and they will teach you the beauty of the earth.” – St. Francis of Assisi

October with its blue skies and bright leaves is a time for appreciating the beauty of the earth. Appropriately, October 4 is the feast day of St. Francis.

For eight centuries, St. Francis has had a great influence on Christian spirituality and even on Western culture. But our present century with the tension between economic development and care for the planet, would benefit from still more of St. Francis’ wisdom. A genuine prophet, St. Francis was not fooled by the appearance of things but understood truly important things at a deep level. I think this makes his teachings particularly relevant for our times.

For example, consider if you will this quotation from St. Francis, “If you have people who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have those who will deal likewise with their fellow human beings.”

St. Francis of Assisi

Many centuries after St. Francis made that observation, psychologists have arrived at the same conclusion. People to whom we now would give a diagnostic label as “sociopaths” display a lack of guilt when they make another living being suffer, whether a person or an animal. They appear to have little ability to take responsibility for their actions and especially little inclination or ability to imagine the suffering of the victim of their cruelty. I wonder if we who are heedlessly using up the earth’s resources and endangering other creatures are not, in some manner, unwilling or unable to take responsibility for the mess we are making.

“Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature. What you are in his sight is what you are and nothing more. Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received…but only what you have given; a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.”
– St. Francis

Maybe our polluting culture grew up getting the wrong messages about humankind’s right to dominate the natural world. We have certainly received the wrong message from our consumerist culture that “he who dies with the most stuff wins!” Nonetheless, perhaps this is the time we should start re-learning the moral significance of how we treat all the other creatures who share this earth with us. It will take clear thinking and a clear eye.

“Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature. What you are in his sight is what you are and nothing more. Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received…but only what you have given; a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.” – St. Francis 

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