Sermon: St. Francis of Assis

St. Francis by Nicholas Roerich. 1932. Tempera on canvas.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and a bit further in the creation narrative, we are told: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”

God created all things, and we are to “fill the earth and subdue it.” He crowned us with glory and subjected all things to us. The Lord took all that he had made and handed it to us. Yet, in doing so, he did not make us owners or dictators over it. He made us stewards and supervisors of His creation, and how we care for His creation reflects how we care for one another.

When we think of St. Francis, we think of the stories of his interactions with the animals. However, a closer reading of those stories demonstrates to us how we are to care for one another; as St. Francis of Assisi said, “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” Francis is saying that if you abuse an animal, you’ll abuse a person. If you pollute the earth, you’ll pollute a soul. If you see creation simply as a means to an end, then it is likely that you will see others simply as objects created to fulfill selfish desires.

How should we act towards creation and others? A Native American saying: “God Made the earth, the sky and the water, the moon and the sun. He made man and bird and beast. But He didn’t make the dog. He already had one.” Jesus said, “Be the kind of person your dog thinks you are.” I read that on Facebook, so it must be true. No. Jesus did not say that, but it has a good bit of truth and expresses how we should act toward creation. And you can change it up to be the kind of person your cat thinks you are, your iguana or turtle. They are all the same if you love and care for them—the point: be that kind of person to the people around you. 

I do not know what Jesus would say about a cat, but the name I gave the cat that lives in my house is Rain. The name she has given herself is The Queen. As her loyal subject and obedient servant, she finds in me kindness, compassion, comfort, a scratch behind the ear, and treats. I pray that the world will discover those qualities in me (minus the scratch behind the ear). Why? Because Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Yes, be the kind of person your dog, cat, or iguana thinks you are. Be the kind of person who brings glory to the Father in your dealings with the earth and with the four, eight, or more legged creatures, and be one who brings glory to the Father in your dealings with the two-legged variety as well. Perhaps Francis expressed it best in the prayer that is attributed to him. Let us pray:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace:
where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

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