Scientists say that most of us will never experience the full wonder of the star-filled nighttime sky because of the “light pollution” which keeps our modern world too bright to see true night. No doubt, this would have saddened St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrate October 4.
The saint who embraced the glory of creation, Francis is the patron saint of ecology and a model steward for our present age. Always one of our most popular saints, you need only visit a garden shop to find that, even in the midst of secular commerce, you can find a lawn statue of the 12th century native of an Umbrian hill town. Yet like many famous folk, Francis has become somewhat stereotyped, those statues always adorned sweetly with little birds. In reality, Francis was a bold and inspired man, a good steward of creation, who embraced it as bountifully good, emphasizing the original outpouring of God’s love into the world (at a time when the emphasis was often placed heavily on the stain of original sin.) Francis was a good steward of his neighbor. He famously embraced a leper he met on the roadway, even though he deeply feared the disease. When the man appeared to vanish, Francis felt he had encountered Christ himself which strengthened his belief that God is found in all of creation.
Francis heard the words “Rebuild my church” while visiting the worndown chapel at San Damiano. Only later did he and others regard those words as a challenge not to repair a structure but to reinvigorate Christian spirituality. Today, in a time of environmental crisis, Pope Francis is the first pontiff to take the saint of Assisi’s name as his own. The Holy Father’s encyclical, Laudato Sí, On Care for Our Common Home, speaks to the need to be good stewards of creation, to protect and cherish God’s great gift. St. Francis left us, along with a deep love for creation, with a spirituality that embraces simplicity and love for the poor.
October offers Christian stewards an opportunity to pray outdoors in the beauty of autumn, the changing leaves, the early dusk. Be a good steward of your prayer life: Take a prayer walk, as St. Francis would. Ask the saint to help you recommit to a simpler lifestyle, recycling, reusing, honoring resources, to seeing the earth and its poor as holy. Perhaps we might even venture out to the garden late at night, to see as many stars as we can.