As a recent graduate of Franciscan University, Saint Francis of Assisi has taught me much about my place in this world in relation to all of creation. It is through Saint Francis’ example that we as Catholics are called to be in harmony with God by living lives of simplicity and gratitude. Through our daily commitment to God’s creation, we must be good stewards of the wellbeing of the poor and of nature.
Just three years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Assisi and hiking up Mount Subasio, to the Hermitage of Carceri, where St. Francis would retreat to pray. Taking the path that he was said to hike up almost daily, we ascended approximately 2.5 miles above Assisi and were immediately engulfed by nature. Looking over the “City of Peace,” it was no surprise why St. Francis had this profound connection to our Lord through the beauty of creation. This experience of God in nature and all of creation is one that we were all created for, not just Saint Francis. Pope Francis explains this relationship in his encyclical, Laudato Si. In this encyclical, Pope Francis explains that integral ecology is the notion that all things of this earth are interrelated and that there is a clear relationship between nature and our society, which is built upon it. He writes:
An integral ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics.Laudato Si, 156
Based upon this principle, the way in which we choose to care for God’s creation is directly linked to how we respect the dignity of all people and care for our poor brothers and sisters. While this may prove to be something that we all believe, we must identify that there is too often a gap between what we believe and how we practice it. In our developed society, it can be hard to realize our connection to God through nature, especially when most of us don’t have a mountain to retreat up, as Saint Francis did.
We do, however, have a clear duty as Catholics to protect and restore creation, so the Lord may work through more people as their eyes are opened to creation’s boundless beauty. In paragraph five of Laudato Si, Pope Francis writes:
Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in “lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies.”
This is how we practice what we believe. As Psalm 33 states, “the Earth is full of the goodness of the Lord,” and as Christians, we have a duty to protect this multifaceted manifestation of His glory just as meticulously as we protect manmade paintings of Him in art museums. Why should we negligently allow pollution to damage this gift that God Himself surrounded and entrusted us with, when we wouldn’t dream of allowing similar damages to taint the human-created artwork of Him that we’ve been diligently preserving for centuries?
We must make changes to our ways of living as it is necessary to preserve nature, and we must advocate for the changes that we want to see, whether that be politically or within our own homes. By advocating for these necessary causes, we then can help those around us to recognize the integral ecology that Pope Francis describes, and we all will make better decisions because of it. By working to preserve nature, we are ultimately serving all those who inhabit this earth and thus living out our Christian faith. In a society where creation is better valued and cared for, we may begin to feel more like Saint Francis did in the little town of Assisi. May we then begin to see God moving in all of creation.