Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Praised Be You, My Lord for our Sister Mother Earth

A feature of current Franciscan spirituality and theology is trying to move St. Francis of Assisi out of the "birdbath" and into concrete and real human experience.

Who hasn't seen the image of St. Francis with birds perched on his shoulder, petting a deer or other such animal? While these can be wonderful images, especially for children. they can also do a disservice by "taming" this very wild saint of God!

Simply put, St. Francis believed that God's power and grace were evident in all creation because he had redemptive vision. This means that he believed the prophecies of Isaiah, which we often read during the Season of Advent (e.g. Isa. 11:6-9), were fulfilled -- and being fulfilled -- because of the Incarnation of the Son of God in human history and the saving event of the Paschal Mystery -- Jesus' passion, death and resurrection.

Believing that salvation was a real experience, St. Francis loved creation because it glorified God and because through creation God's glory was manifest to human beings. Of course, for St. Francis, this reaches its apex in the human creature. Francis is faithful to the biblical narrative, which we find in Genesis (1:27), that states that humanity is created -- male and female -- in God's image! And even more so, that image, marred by sin, is restored through the obedience of Jesus Christ. Hence, he was also faithful to the teaching of one of the very early Fathers of the Church, the martyred bishop St. Irenaeus of Lyons, that "The glory of God is the human being fully alive!"

Thus, St. Francis of Assisi rejoiced that salvation was indeed happening! It was happening in his own life and in all of creation; that the teaching of St. Paul the Apostle (Rom. 8:19-23) about all creation groaning for the revelation of the children of God (i.e. those redeemed by the Blood of Christ) was indeed coming to pass. That is why the Poor One of Christ (Poverello) could boldly cry out that the sun was his brother, the moon his sister, the fire his brother, the water his sister, and Mother Earth his sister (cf. his famous Canticle of the Creatures).

This gives, of course, a whole new impetus to the Franciscan push to respect creation as the handiwork of God and intimately connected with our salvation story. Believing, like St. Francis, that the salvation of all creation is a work in progress is to take a bold step in faith out into our sinful world which tends to see creation merely as a commodity to be exploited only for human consumption. It is to stand against the misinterpretation of Genesis 1:28b-30 when the Creator entrusts His dominion to human stewardship -- men and women have dominion over creation, yes, not to destroy this household of our Sister Mother Earth, but to honor and respect the elements, the resources, the minerals, the water, the air -- all of it -- for the glory of God and for the benefit of all humankind and, indeed, all creation.

For us Franciscan Friars, the integrity of creation is not simply a matter of being "green" or being accused of "tree hugging"! Far more than that, it is looking at creation, like our holy founder, with the eyes of a mystic to perceive God's presence and activity. It is not sentimental romanticism -- it is hard-core faith that the promises of God are being fulfilled -- even now -- in and through all of creation!

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