Francis of Assisi, Patron of Ecology: By Dr. (Sr.) Mudita Sodder




Mayank, a SYBA Sociology student revealed during a self disclosure session in college, that he had a phobia for dogs. He was terrified of dogs. Desiring to help him get over his fear, I began to tell the whole class the story of St Francis of Assisi and how Francis spoke to the birds of the air and preached to the fish of the sea. Francis reprimanded the wolf of Gubbio who was troubling the villagers and brought about peace and harmony in the village by taming the ruthless wolf. Listening with rapt attention the class was electrified. Suddenly, Abhilasha the brightest spark and the most liberated student in the class in backward Bihar, blurted out with utter innocence, “Sister, in which language did he speak? Can I also talk to the birds, fish and all other creatures of God?” I was amused but realised that she was caught up by the life of Francis and genuinely wanted not just to admire him as millions do, or emulate him like the thousands but imitate him like the few do.

I explained to her that Francis spoke the language of the heart, the language of love, the language that little children speak to flowers, butterflies, dolls et al, which penetrates any and every heart. When I showed them a short video clipping of a young girl, taming a pack of leopards, the pupils of her eyes dilated, and her umpteen queries, just tumbled out of her teeming mind. I knew she was on fire with love for all God’s creatures, just as Francis of Assisi was!

Saints are fascinating characters who do simple things in an extraordinary way. Francis’ love for nature, his peace-loving character, and his jubilant spirit have fascinated even the bigoted atheists, and antagonists of Christianity. At an early age he was blessed with the wisdom of comprehending that Mother Earth is a rich and beautiful legacy from a loving Father – an equal inheritance to all his children, which is why he cared for the Earth as a responsible trustee.

The impressive Green thinking Francis of Assisi, Patron of Ecology, who was far ahead of his times, always called nature “sister”. And he walked the talk by treating her with much care. He says in his Canticle of Brother Sun: “Blessed are you, my Lord, for our sister mother earth which sustains and governs us and produces different fruits with coloured flowers and herbs”. Starting the “Spirituality of Relationships” by relating to all of God’s creatures, Francis said, “Let the sister weeds grow!” He was the first one to call the weeds sister weeds and cared for them too. Understanding the core of God’s plan i.e. all of God’s creatures have a right to grow and bloom, including the weeds, the mosquitoes, the snakes, the rats, the worms, and all other creepy crawly wonders of the creator!

Francis had a fascinating character which came out with greater relief in the way he did things. He addressed poverty as “Lady Poverty”, and embraced death, the gloomy aspect of life, with open arms as a lover welcomes one’s beloved. Wanting to participate in the victorious death of Christ, and realising deeply this reality, he lived his dying process in the context of a fellowship meal after the example of Jesus, his Lord and Guru. In this way just after sunset on October 3rd, 1226, at the tender age of 44, he not only broke the sting of death and all its sad notes but he also made his peculiar death a joyous event reciting Psalm 142- the true Christian meaning of Death and Resurrection. According to Christianity, “Death is the birthday to heaven”. We live our entire life for that one moment of death when we enter into the bosom of the Father (God) – the zenith of joy. Francis was a clear resemblance to the innocent Lamb, who took away the sins of the world. He was as it were just taken down from the cross with the wounds of the nails in his side, the wound of the lance from which gushed forth the Waters of Life. Francis truly reconciled the world with God.

Pope Benedict XVI was called the “Green Pope” (Newsweek2008), as he promoted Francis’ “Spirituality of Relationships”, by caring for the Planet. “Learn to sustain the Planet before it is too late”, he said. He placed 2,700 solar panels on the roof of Paul VI Auditorium, created a new Vatican Climate Forest in Hungary’s Bükk National Park, installed high-tech solar collectors, and announced seven new sins that need repentance, the fourth sin being, “Thou shall not pollute the environment”, besides many other green activities.

Our present Pope Francis, choose St. Francis of Assisi, as his role model to imitate and live his “Lady Poverty” to the hilt, deliberately choosing an austere way of life, exhorting others to follow suit, so that there is enough for all in the world. Pope Francis conducts his personal life in an unassuming and compassionate way living in a simple apartment rather than in the luxurious Papal apartment and by taking the minibus rather than the Papal limousine!

Let us ask St Francis of Assisi whose feast we celebrate on October 4th to enlighten our spirit with the light of wisdom, and ask God to give us peace, in today’s war-torn world. Like Francis, may God grant us the reward of everlasting joy. Happy Feast of St Francis of Assisi on 4th October 2014.

Dr (Sr) Mudita Menona Sodder RSCJ

Patna, Bihar.

21st September 2014.

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