Annette Gagliano, Catholic Register Special

Like St. Francis of Assisi, respect God’s creations

By  Annette Gagliano, Catholic Register Special
  • April 17, 2012

Although Earth Day is a secular event, Catholics can turn to the patron saint of ecology to see the importance of respecting and preserving the planet. 

St. Francis of Assisi was born to a middle-class family in Assisi, a small town in central Italy. But his life was forever changed when he heard the voice of Jesus coming from the crucifix in the abandoned Church of San Damiano.

Responding to Jesus’ call, Francis acknowledged simplicity in life, renouncing all his material possessions. He was putting into practice the Gospel message of Jesus: “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Mark 10.21). For Francis, the impoverished and needy was not restricted to human beings, but encompassed all creatures of God’s creation.

He was inspired by passages in the Bible that encourage humans to praise gifts in the natural world. In particular, Genesis, Psalms and Daniel were influential in the making of Francis’ most significant work, “The Canticle of Creation.” 

One of the most famous tales of St. Francis was when he preached to the birds because he was frustrated that people were not listening to the Word of God. There are additional accounts of Francis freeing a rabbit caught in a snare, taming a killer wolf and asking honey be supplied to the bees in the winter.

St. Francis’ perception on life was radical for his time. He believed that creation was not only beautiful but good, because it reflected a Creator who represented goodness. Francis was putting into practice the classic definition of a sacrament, defined by St. Augustine as a sign of a sacred reality. St. Francis saw all of creation glorified through the risen Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. As a result, the presence of Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist is embodied in all of creation. God’s creation has an inherent value and human beings are merely a part of God’s wondrous works. 

Pope John Paul II acknowledged the significance of Francis’ stewardship in a World Day of Peace message, saying, “It is my hope that the inspiration of St. Francis will help us to keep ever alive a sense of ‘fraternity’ with all those good and beautiful things which Almighty God has created. And may he remind us of our serious obligation to respect and watch over them with care, in light of that greater and higher fraternity that exists within the human family.”

In the modern context, planting a tree, carpooling to school and buying local food are a couple of simple activities that can be done to appreciate and look after God’s creation. Following St. Francis of Assisi’s lead, Catholics can recognize the inherent value of creation. By perceiving the natural world as a sacrament of the Divine, Catholics can actively participate in helping the environment on Earth Day, and every day.

(Gagliano, 21, is a life sciences student at the University of Toronto and an alumnus of the Youth Speak News team.)

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