Posted by: wjlayton | September 27, 2011

A Call To Simplicity: St. Francis and Sustainability

 “Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures . . .”

St. Francis of Assisi, “Canticle of the Sun”

Looking ahead one week from today, October 4 marks the traditional feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, beloved in the western tradition as the patron saint of animals and ecology.  St. Francis is perhaps best known today for the stories about his interactions with animals, whether he was preaching to the birds, talking sense into a ravenous wolf, or thanking his donkey on his deathbed. These stories are charming, and important in showing that we as Christians can and should be full participants in God’s world, recognizing that we, like the animals, are creatures of God’s creation. Yet Francis’s legacy runs much deeper for us as people of faith devoted to care and justice for creation.

Francis called his community to lead a simpler, more Christ-like life, rejecting ostentatious wealth and conspicuous consumption.   Born into a wealthy Italian family in the Middle Ages, Francis would have been raised within the medieval equivalent of modern consumer culture, wearing the finest clothing and spending money extravagantly. As a young man, Francis began to realize the biblical call to a life of poverty and simplicity, and of caring for the poor and the outcasts of society.

Though the concept of environmental sustainability did not yet exist during Francis’s lifetime (or, for that matter, for another six centuries afterwards), Francis’s simple lifestyle was not only more like the life Christ calls us to lead, but also a lifestyle that treads lighter on God’s Earth. Francis’s life of poverty meant sacrificing certain material comforts, but it also meant, and can mean for us, an enriched, more abundant, more faithful life and a deeper relationship with God the creator and with the glories of God’s earth around us.

St. Francis’s life was an example of Christian simplicity and humility in harmony with the natural world. Francis saw this perfect harmony in literal terms when he penned his “Canticle of the Sun”, known to us in English as the hymn “All Creatures of our God and King,” which depicts the entirety of creation harmonizing to praise God.

“Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.”

To learn more about ways to live more simply and sustainably, visit the NCC Eco-Justice Program’s website on consumerism.

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