Will the Real St. Francis Please Stand Up? 26

Giotto — Saint Francis receiving the Stigmata

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.

El Greco — St Francis contemplating the Crucifix

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.

My deer friend

Blue heron

Another blue heron (or maybe the same one)

Didn’t know squirrels could do that, did you?

Winters can be brutal around here when food gets scarce

WHO are you looking at? …

… Turkey!

Bambi and Thumper

Bambi and Mommy reunited

You’re getting a little old for that, son.

Groundhog pups

Camera shy

Real camera shy

Not so camera shy

Now that’s a pose!

Yes, and worms too.

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.

Zurbaran, St. Francis of Assisi

26 comments

  1. Outstanding pictures! Loved them…I am posting a photo of a bird I discovered in my garage one day last week, then in the flower garden last evening. I am afraid it is wounded – it can’t fly but walks ok. any suggestions?

    • I’ll check out your bird photo. I am not really sure how to take care of a wounded bird, but I know people who have nursed them back to health. Sometimes a kind veterinarian will help or at some parks that serve as animal reserves, there are unofficial rangers who do that sort of thing. If there is a local petting zoo in the area, they would probably give you some tips or take care of it for you. Just some thoughts…

  2. ……….and to think that the humble little earthworm you’re holding in your hand has been given by God the mighty task of aerating the soil. Just goes to show that all God’s creatures got a place in the choir!

    • And to think of the great responsibility God has placed in our hands, giving us dominion (rather, stewardship) over all the creatures on earth. It is indeed a mighty task and a great treasure we hold in earthen vessels. God bless!

      • Beautiful thoughts! These last two comments from 8kidsandabusiness and Biltrix gave me enough deeply profound ‘food for thought’ for my Holy Hour yesterday. Many thanks. :-)

  3. This was great, great and great again!!! You know how much I loved these pictures. Took my breath away they did. I was thinking when I looked at them, “How I would love to immerse myself right there with each and every one of those animals.” St. Francis is very special to me, as you might have guessed>)

    He was/is such a dear Saint and his “humility” is what always captured my heart, among the animals of course:>)

    Loved it and thanks for sharing! God Bless, SR

    • “Humility” is the word and he took it to new levels. I think the way in which he understood the verse, “I am a worm, not a man,” which prophetically referred to Jesus dying on the cross, displays deep spiritual resonance that only comes through prayer and engenders they type of humility he had. He was deeply aware of man’s role in the cosmos — the divine order of things — and that order included every creature entrusted to man’s care. Because of his humility, he saw that the only way to respond was with wonder, gratitude, and love.

      God bless!

  4. Great photos! I love the statue of St. Francis sitting so casually on that bench. Thanks for the reminder that he was more than just a lover of animals, though–he was a radical reformer, filled with the Spirit and courage, who walked the walk. We do tend to sentimentalize saints, and it is good to be reminded of the human being who really was, and the choices that were made. It keeps it real–and possible for all of us to follow.

    • Thank you, Reinkat. The saints themselves remind us of this reality, that men and women are called to walk the walk of holiness. Sometimes they are placed them on high pedestals making them inaccessible to ordinary people. In a way, they belong on those pedestals, because they are in a high place, in heaven with God. Yet we were never meant to overlook the fact that they were ordinary people who strove for holiness in ordinary (and sometimes extraordinary) things in live. The more we know them as the men and women they truly were, the better we can accept and live out God’s call to holiness for ourselves.

  5. A really wonderful article that I shall keep for future reference. Thank you so much for this. I shall go over right away to my blog, CP&S, to make a mention of it.

    Francis is my beloved father’s name, and he had a great devotion to St Francis of Assisi. I hope and pray he is now enjoying his company in Heaven!

    • Thank you, Kathleen. And thanks for linking back to this article from CP&S. I am glad you found the article useful for reflection during your holy hour, yesterday.

      Your father had a great patron and guide praying for him in Heaven. I’m sure he is there now enjoying the saints’ company at the heavenly banquet. God bless!

  6. Have you named the worm yet? Great post — so enjoyed your discussion of Francis and the backyard photos (Father Green’s got a way with a lens)! The Bambi and Thumper shot is terrif, and I confess a bit of envy over your turkey shot. Is he a show-off or what?

    • I did not think to name the worm… Shucks! He’s gone now, out aerating the soil in the patch of earth where I left him, I suppose. I guess we can call him Dug.

      I’ve seen more turkeys at one time than you can count on this property. And when the toms get all puffy like that, it is best to keep your distance. I’ve seen them go after people (in cassocks!). Ordinarily, though, turkeys take off in the blink of an eye at the smallest threat posed to them.

      Glad you enjoyed the pics and the post. God bless!

  7. Amen and amen!!! I live in such a place I’m constantly awed at the Creator’s handiwork. The skies with the variety of cloud formations, the play of the sun’s rays in the sky with the color formations and hues, the lizards of such a variety, the birds and the flora, o the lush green that surrounds me here. What an awesome Creator! And he created us…

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