Monday, October 4, 2010

St. Francis: Joy and Compassion

St. Francis found joy in all of creation, and this St. Francis Day in Nebraska is the sort of beautiful October day that makes it easy to rejoice in creation along with Francis. Nights are cold and crisp, while clear blue skies bring the sun's warmth during the day. I’ve seen humans and other animals basking in the sun, catching all the warmth we can before cooler days set in.

Several parishes have a tradition of blessing the animals – dogs, cats, hamsters, and sometimes more exotic creatures -- either at a separate service today or during Sunday services. We enjoy stories about St. Francis and the animals, and appreciate the reminder that God loves our animal companions just as we do. Francis loved not only the animals, though, but all of creation. Perhaps we should bless our chrysanthemums and cottonwood trees and our rocks and roses along with the animals.

Francis expressed this joy in his Canticle of Creation, sometimes known as the Canticle of Brother Sun. We Episcopalians know this canticle as Hymns 406 and 407, “Most High, omnipotent, good Lord”.

Joy in creation is one strand of the life of St. Francis. An equally strong strand is his teaching of compassion for the poor. The Old Testament reading appointed for the Feast of St. Francis, Jeremiah 22:13-16, is about humility. It reminds us that God is more interested in justice and righteousness, in how we treat the poor and needy, than whether we are able to have luxurious homes. The two strands are easily intertwined, as finding joy in the everyday wonders of creation opens our hearts to compassion for all creatures, including our sisters and brothers in the human family.

Joy in God’s creation and compassion for the poor are two elements of environmental stewardship. We work for a sustainable environment because we know the poorest people in the world usually suffer first and worst from any sort of pollution or climate change, but we also work for a sustainable environment so that we can preserve those animals and plants and places through which we encounter God in God’s creation.

Blessed St. Francis Day! Enjoy the beauty of creation and the sunshine!

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