Fifth Week of Easter

The Saints and Sister Mother Earth

Back in the octave of Easter, we dug into the final stanzas of The Canticle of the Creatures by St. Francis of Assisi. Now the time has come to read the rest of the Canticle, starting at the beginning:

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessings.

To you alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention your name.

Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures;
especially Brother Sun, who is the day, and through whom you give us light.

And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
and bears a likeness to you, Most High One.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which you give sustenance to your creatures.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night;
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

St. Francis deeply internalized the fact that everything we see around us was created by God, just as mankind was. He also understood that Christ's redemption extended to all of God's creation. This means that the sun, moon, stars, air, water, fire, and all the animals and plants are our brothers and sisters, not our lords and masters, as many pagans thought. Even the planet itself, which is in some sense a nurturing mother to us, is also our sister because she is a fellow creature rather than a goddess.

The fall resulted in a family feud of cosmic proportions, but we have been reconciled with creation in the Resurrection of Christ. Now we can all praise God together, each in our own way, like a vast choir of many parts. The Canticle says that God receives glory through his various creatures when they reflect one of his attributes or provide mankind with some benefit. They glorify God by fulfilling the purpose for which he created them, just as we give God glory as creatures made in his image when we exercise loving stewardship over the rest of creation.
St. Francis is famous for preaching to the birds and generally loving God's creation. But he is far from alone in this regard. History is filled with saints and other prominent Christians who loved and protected animals, attentively cultivated plants, and eagerly studied the earth and stars. In particular, there are numerous historical anecdotes (not to mention legends) about saints taming or befriending dangerous animals like lions, bears, and wolves in the name of Jesus Christ.

Holy friendships between humans and other creatures remind us of the Garden of Eden, in which Adam and Eve lived at peace with the whole animal kingdom. Better yet, they foreshadow the New Creation, in which mankind will once again exercise a loving, peaceful dominion over all creation.

Now, most of us are not going to make friends with wolves, but we can show respect for other creatures and do what we can to facilitate them acting in accord with their God-given natures. We can recognize the glory they give God and glorify him alongside them, just as St. Francis did in his Canticle. In short, we can love and protect creation, caring for Sister Mother Earth and our other sisters and brothers.

But even if we agree on that, there's still plenty of room for disagreement on how we ought to care for the earth. We'll examine creation care controversies in the next post.
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

This collect prayer begins the Mass for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Jesus is calling us to "take up battle against spiritual evils." We'll explore fasting itself in a few weeks; during the week of Ash Wednesday, we're going to dig into an important set of weapons the Lord gives us to fight evil: sacramentals.

What's a sacramental? Well, if you attend Mass on Ash Wednesday, you're probably going to receive one on your forehead.