How St. Francis of Assisi Inspires Pope Francis
“[W]hen our hearts are authentically open to universal
communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one.”
“Francis helps us to see . . .the heart of what it is to be human ”
“Saint Francis shows us just how inseparable the bond is . . . .
between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.”
“The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical:
a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.”
~ Pope Francis (from Laudato Si* climate encyclical message)
Like millions of others worldwide I was deeply moved and inspired by Pope Francis’ 2015 visit to the USA. On conclusion of that visit I wondered why the Pope – a Jesuit from Latin America – had been inspired to become first in history to take the papal name Francis.
I soon discovered a probable answer to this question in introductory paragraphs of the Pope’s recent profound climate encyclical message, Laudato Si, or “Praised Be” [*see footnote] specifically referring to the exemplary and inspiring life of the Pope’s namesake Saint Francis of Assisi. Those paragraphs explain why the Saint is revered not only by the Pope and countless Christians, but by numerous others world-wide for his simple life of heartfelt universal love and oneness with Nature.
To honor Saint Francis and the Pope I am sharing with you below those inspiring words of Pope Francis expressing reverence for his namesake.
The encyclical message opens with these words:
1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured
flowers and herbs”.
2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.
Then, after briefly summarizing apt teachings of his papal predecessors, the Pope explicitly explains his inspiration from St. Francis of Assisi as follows:
10. I do not want to write this Encyclical without turning to that attractive and compelling figure, whose name I took as my guide and inspiration when I was elected Bishop of Rome. I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology,
and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is
between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.
11. Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with
all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure
tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if
we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.
12. What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of
the world” (Rom 1:20). For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.
Later the Pope cites the Saint as inspiring us to commune with Nature in open hearted compassion for for all beings and all Life:
91. A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted. This compromises the
very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment. It is no coincidence that, in the canticle in which Saint Francis praises God for his creatures, he goes on to say: “Praised be you my Lord, through those who give pardon for your love”. Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment
to resolving the problems of society.
92. Moreover, when our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one.
221. May the power and the light of the grace we have received also be evident in our relationship to other creatures and to the world around us. In this way, we will help nurture that sublime fraternity with all creation which Saint Francis of Assisi so radiantly embodied.
*“Laudato Si”, or “Praised Be.” is a refrain from “The Canticle of the Creatures,” a hymn composed by St. Francis of Assisi.
While remembering and honoring Saint Francis, let us deeply consider and heed the Pope’s wise and profound words addressed to all Humankind, not just to Catholic hierarchy and laity.
Thereby may every one of us – each from our unique perspective and in our unique way – help Humankind urgently address and peacefully resolve immense ecological, political, and economic crises and conflicts confronting us internationally and interpersonally.
And so may it be!