Seeking St. Francis

St. Francis - USF Goldstine Center

Sufi Ahmad’s sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi stands outside the University of Saint Francis Performing Arts Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. (Photo by Nancy Crowe)

At one time, all I knew about St. Francis of Assisi was that he was the patron saint of animals. Though not Catholic and therefore unschooled in the saints, I thought that was pretty cool. Only later, when my partner and I took our cat and dog to an animal blessing at the University of Saint Francis, did I begin to learn more about this Italian friar who talked to birds and used phrases such as “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon.”

Catholic and Protestant communities alike — including my alma mater, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary — observe his feast day, Oct. 4, with pet blessings and other services honoring the natural world.

Francis died in 1226, so there’s been ample time for legend and interpretation to rise and fall. Proving the authenticity of his quotes and prayers is not my purpose here (though, as a journalist, I can’t help wishing someone had done so back then). Yet his story is timeless.

Born into wealth, he partied hard and aspired to knighthood. Gradually, a place in his heart known only to him and his creator led Francis to live like a pauper and turn his focus to serving God. Though a religious order seemed a wee bit too similar to military life for his comfort, he would go on to found the Franciscan monastic order.

Statues (such as the one above) and other artworks most often portray Francis in the company of birds, and it is said that they came and listened to him preach. In one story, he told them:

My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you… you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests.

The birds probably already knew that, but who among us couldn’t use a reminder? They apparently stayed perfectly still as he walked among them. I’m sure there were times, especially among his animal friends, when Francis didn’t speak a word.

Preach the gospel. When necessary, use words. (Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi)

In my animal Reiki and animal communication practice and with my own animal companions, I often seek the aid of St. Francis. Not in place of God, but as a member of God’s team. Francis of Assisi loved and respected animals when he walked the earth and, in spirit, is in an even better position to look out for them now. I mean, he’s probably the patron saint of animals and the environment for a reason. 

We need all the help we can get on (not to mention for) earth. The good news is that being better stewards of the earth, the animals, and ourselves is within our grasp.

If God can work through me, He can work through anyone. (Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi)

(Information drawn, in part, from Catholic Online and Biography Online.)

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