It seems to me that St. Francis of Assisi could well be named the patron saint of this year’s Lent, in which many are looking to incorporate the calling of the pope’s “Laudato Si'” encyclical into their 40-day journey of penitence and conversion.
It’s almost as if St. Francis lived his entire adult life as one continuous Lent, and this Lent I’m thinking more and more about him and wondering how we might imitate his goodness and virtue, with a focus on creation.
Francis, born into wealth, very much enjoyed all of the pleasures and privileges that accompanied his status. He loved revelry, fine clothes and showy displays. He was popular and witty and was a favorite among the nobles of his town. He had it all. Or so it seemed.
In his 20s, after a long illness, his contemplation of eternity was the beginning of his transformation. Nature — God’s creation — provided an entree for Francis into a life based on the Gospel.
This contemplation led Francis to change his view of the world, and he became less and less enthusiastic about the things that used to matter to him: riches, parties and finery. He set about to live in a different way, one that became spiritual instead of material. He began to yearn for a simpler life.
Perhaps he meditated on Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s and all it holds, the world and those who dwell in it. For he founded it on the seas, established it over the rivers.”
Or maybe he read Isaiah 11:6-9: “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.
“The cow and the bear shall graze, together their young shall lie down; the lion shall eat hay like the ox … they shall not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.”
Scripture offers endless passages for us to contemplate God’s creation. Genesis alone provides a wide picture of God as creator of man and of nature, and also a God who includes animals in the tale of redemption, as we see in Noah’s Ark (Gn 6-9).
For St. Francis, nature itself became a way to give glory to God. We can strive to see through the eyes of Francis, to view nature — the land, animals, resources and even the weather itself — as sacred and appreciate all of it, as he did.
But in the spirit of Lent and of “Laudato Si’,” we can listen for the voice of God. What does God want us to do to protect what he created?
I have so much to learn from St. Francis, and I pray that, even in a small way this Lent, I’ll be able to imitate his virtuous life.