I am a worm, not a man. — Psalm 22:6
Everyone loves Saint Francis. Catholics, non-Catholics, non-Christians… It doesn’t matter. You don’t need to be a Franciscan to have a statue of the austere, rustic, peace-loving, animal-loving St. Francis in your lawn or garden, like this one.
Okay, not everyone can afford one of these; but who would not want to have a bench like this to sit back and contemplate the beauty of God’s grandeur with St. Francis?
When people think of St. Francis, they think of things like love for the poor, love for peace, and love for animals. They don’t ordinarily think of his immense trials like struggling with intense temptation, being renounced by his own family, being utterly confused about God’s calling in his life, what it must have been like to found an altogether new kind of religious order, and to experience painful stigmata.
Besides, why would anyone really want to think about those kinds of things? That does not touch our daily lives.
No, we relate better to the peaceful Francis of the forest. The Francis who has birds perched on his shoulders and deer eating out of his hands. But was that the real St. Francis? Where do we get the idea that he was such an animal lover? Was he?
Indeed he was. His first biographer, close companion and fellow friar, Thomas of Celano wrote:
“For who could ever give expression to the very great affection he bore for all things that are God’s? Who would be able to narrate the sweetness he enjoyed while contemplating in creatures the wisdom of their Creator, his power and his goodness? Indeed, he was very often filled with a wonderful and ineffable joy from this consideration while he looked upon the sun, while he beheld the moon, and while he gazed upon the stars and the firmament. O simple piety and pious simplicity! Toward little worms even he glowed with a very great love, for he had read this saying about the Savior: I am a worm, not a man. Therefore he picked them up from the road and placed them in a safe place, lest they be crushed by the feet of the passersby. What shall I say of the lower creatures, when he would see to it that the bees would be provided with honey in the winter, or the best wine, lest they should die from the cold? He used to praise in public the perfection of their works and the excellence of their skill, for the glory of God, with such encomiums that would often spend a whole day in praising them and the rest of creatures….This man, filled with the spirit of God, never ceased to glorify, praise, and bless the Creator and Ruler of all things in all the elements and creatures” — Thomas of Celano, First life of St. Francis.
The man loved worms.
There you have it. St. Francis’s “great love” for all God’s creatures was an overflowing of his deep, passionate love for the Creator, whom he knew to be Jesus Christ. He internalized what he read and meditated on in Scripture to the extent that not only could he not step on a worm, he had to put them in a safe place so that others would not step on them. Why? Because they reminded him of a psalm verse that referred to Christ, his God and Savior. That is the devotion of a saint!
Of course, there was more to St. Francis’s devotion than care for humble animals. Yet we don’t need to look any further to find the root of all his devotion. Christ-centered love. His “preaching without words” was simply this: Love God in all things. Love God and you can do all things. Love for God surpasses all things, except for one thing, namely, God’s great love for us.
Speaking of animals, I’m sure you are all great animal lovers, and I am too, in the spirit of St Francis, of course. You would be surprised how many different kinds of animals I see just about every day here on this multi-acre property in the middle of the burbs, just a few miles north of Manhattan. The pictures below were all taken right here in my back yard. I mean literally. It would be a shame for me not to take a walk around the property every once and a while to love God in his beautiful creatures.
All of the following pictures were taken by my friend Fr Matthew Green who blogs at Perpetual Learner (and there’s more great pics on his site, many other good things besides), except for the last one. I took that one this morning.
It was providential. This little guy just happened to be slinking across my path this morning; and I thought to myself, what would St. Francis do? He’d take a picture and post it on Biltrix!
Okay, maybe not. But he would not just pass it by without taking a moment to reflect on this creature’s role and function within the cosmos and to refer it back to its Creator. That, I believe is the message for us — Take time to consider all things with respect to God, today.