St. Francis is one of the most beloved saints of all time. He is known especially for his profound love of nature, and his radical poverty, generosity and simplicity. He has been portrayed in probably hundreds of different ways over the centuries, but I would like to offer this sculpture as one of the most unique ways I've seen of expressing his charism.
This sculpture is one of many works of art on permanent display throughout the campus of St. Mary's University, in San Antonio, Texas. I happened to be on campus not too long ago, so I snapped this photo. I truly appreciate what the artist was trying to say (unfortunately, the artist's name was nowhere to be seen around the piece. I'll have to ask around next time I'm there).
Although St. Francis was known for his love of animals, he didn't actually love nature nearly as much as is commonly understood. He loved nature because he could see the face of God reflected in it, not because he thought it was cute or a lot less troublesome than the villagers, and don't forget, this was -literally - centuries before there were any real environmental or ecological concerns to worry about. St. Francis looked upon all of creation and saw that all of creation is connected, because we have the same Maker. The same spirit of God flows through everything he makes, albeit in different degrees and for different purposes. That's what this sculpture so aptly portrays. It shows St. Francis in his long robe, holding an artist's easel. In the center of the easel is the Sacred Heart. There you have it - the original Franciscan spirituality in one visual image. Francis looked upon the works of the Master Artist, God, and saw his image reflected in all that he made. After that, it was simple for Francis. By loving and caring for God's works, in everything from chipmunks to wolves to children to adults, Francis was loving and honoring God.
As he grew and matured in the spiritual life, Francis became more and more part of the original creation, before the fall. He was able to reclaim the peace, order and balance that existed "in the beginning" and bring it into Italy, in the 1200s. He became another Christ, one who, like Jesus, could change the natural world around him. One of the most famous examples of this is the story of St. Francis and the Wolf. (you can see it here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8227Vy4d28)
It's lovely to still see St. Francis in gardens of houses and even in the stores. But I think its even better to see statues of him at places of learning, like St. Mary's. If we could all recapture, or maybe just relearn, St. Francis' worldview, what a difference that would make! If we remember that the book of Genesis teaches that "in the beginning" the entire cosmos was the Temple of God, we can see how St. Francis reclaimed and embodied this understanding, and enfleshed it through the New Covenant with Christ. Would that we all could see the world through the eyes of Francis, just as this sculpture portrays!
On his feast day, we can ask St. Francis to pray for us, and pray his "Canticle of the Sun" together.
O Most High, all-powerful, good Lord God,
to you belong praise, glory,
honour and all blessing.
Be praised, my Lord, for all your creation
and especially for our Brother Sun,
who brings us the day and the light;
he is strong and shines magnificently.
O Lord, we think of you when we look at him.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon,
and for the stars
which you have set shining and lovely
in the heavens.
Be praised, my Lord,
for our Brothers Wind and Air
and every kind of weather
by which you, Lord,
uphold life in all your creatures.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water,
who is very useful to us,
and humble and precious and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom you give us light in the darkness:
he is bright and lively and strong.
Be praised, my Lord,
for Sister Earth, our Mother,
who nourishes us and sustains us,
fruits and vegetables of many kinds
and flowers of many colours.
Be praised, my Lord,
for those who forgive for love of you;
and for those
who bear sickness and weakness
in peace and patience
- you will grant them a crown.
Be praised, my Lord, for our Sister Death,
whom we must all face.
I praise and bless you, Lord,
and I give thanks to you,
and I will serve you in all humility.
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