We are now at about the halfway point of our Lenten journey with St. Francis. As we have explored the depth with which he embraced a life of virtue and abandonment to God, I hope you have felt inspired and encouraged to pursue your own life of virtue and holiness. If, on the other hand, you have been tempted to feel discouraged because it seems impossible to obtain St. Francis’ mastery of virtue, remember that our spiritual life is always a journey, not a destination, and even some of the greatest saints, including Francis, have a sinful past. No matter how small the steps, keep moving forward! We will now turn to another of the saint’s great virtues as described by St. Bonaventure.

Chapter 8: Of His Tender Piety, and How Even Creatures Devoid of Reason Were Obedient to His Will

Piety is a gift of the Holy Spirit that we all receive at our Confirmation when we become fully initiated members of the body of Christ. Piety is that quality that compels us to reverence and love God as an act of justice so that we give to God what is properly owed to him simply because of who he is. The most obvious expressions of piety occur in a religious context — such as in the liturgy, adoration, or prayer — as the person recognizes his littleness compared to God, the Supreme Being and King, and offers his humble reverence. While these pious expressions are commendable and convey truth, there is an additional depth to God’s nature and what he is due.

Not only is God a king, but he is also the Creator and our loving Father. All of creation is a gift from God and is, therefore, good. The crown of creation is man and woman, whom he made in his image and likeness, elevating humanity to an unparalleled dignity in the created world. As a loving Father, God loves all of creation — from the birds of the air to the fish in the sea — and he loves every human being he has ever created. If, out of justice, we are called to give reverence to God for who he is, then it necessarily includes loving his creation and our fellow human beings, made in his image and likeness. Thus, when we look at any part of creation, we should recognize its origin in God and offer it the same love and respect we provide to its Creator as an act of piety.

St. Francis took the virtue of piety very seriously. He loved God so profoundly that he loved everything and everyone that God made, just as deeply. Concerning his fellow beings, Francis didn’t just see them as created beings made in the image and likeness of God. He viewed them through the lens of Jesus Christ, who loved them so much that he shed his blood to save them from their sins. For this reason, whenever he witnessed a brother or sister in a state of sin, rather than become angry, indignant, or judgmental, he mourned deeply, often to the point of weeping. St. Bonaventure likens Francis’ heart to one of a tender mother placing her children before the Lord.

In cooperation with his love for others, he despised any act or word in which a person would defame, slander, or degrade another person. He considered these things in direct opposition to the virtue of piety. He compared it to “the bite of a most venomous and horrible serpent, accounting it to be most hateful to our good and gracious God, and affirming that detraction feeds upon the blood of souls, which it slays with the sword of the tongue.” This powerful imagery illustrates how, when used sinfully, our mouths are just as damaging to our souls as venom and swords. We should always speak of other people in ways that honor both the image of God in which they were created and the suffering of Christ who died for them.

As I mentioned above, Francis’ commitment to a life of piety extended to all creation. This is the origin of our popular devotions and artistic expressions of St. Francis in nature, often with animals. In 1225, St. Francis wrote The Canticle of the Sun, offering God all praise and glory for His creation. Notice how, in the canticle, he refers to everything as a brother or sister. St. Bonaventure affirms that Francis viewed creation in this way: “The consideration of the common origin of all creatures filled with overflowing tenderness for all; and he called them all his brothers and sisters because they had all one origin with himself.” Bonaventure also reveals that Francis had a particularly deep affection for lambs because they called to mind the meekest Lamb, who was led to the slaughter for our sins. For this reason, he was often seen caring for lambs, and lambs would flock to him in the fields in response to the divine connection.

Of course, lambs were not the only animals with which St. Francis had great relationships. St. Bonaventure shares several stories of birds, fish, and other animals attracted to the presence of St. Francis. These interactions with animals can be seen as a gift from God in recognition of Francis’ deep piety toward all created things. It’s not so much that he was given some secret power regarding animals and nature, but rather, it was the natural result and reward of the shared profound love of God and his creation. Just like your pet at home knows how much you love him and responds positively to that love, Francis experienced that on a deeper and more universal level through the grace of God.

This week, consider the virtue of piety and how you most often express it. You may find that you most easily practice piety in religious settings. However, after reading about St. Francis’ approach to piety, you may think about it differently. Are you pious at work or home as you interact with people made in the image and likeness of God? How do you experience nature? Do you take it for granted, or do you look at everything with love and awe because God created everything you see? When you see sin in the world, do you mourn and weep in prayer for conversion, or does your tongue to lash out at others because you’re not seeing them through the eyes of the crucified Christ who died for them? Take a moment to slowly read through the Canticle of the Sun and find a new way to love God by loving his creation more deeply.

The Canticle of the Sun

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,

Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,

and all blessings.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong,

and no man is worthy to mention Your name.

Praised be You, my Lord, with all your

creatures;

especially Brother Sun,

who is the day, and through whom You give us light.

And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,

and bears a likeness to You, Most High One.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister

Moon and the stars;

in heaven You formed them clear and

precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother

Wind,

and through the air, cloudy and serene,

and every kind of weather through which You

give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister

Water,

which is very useful and humble and

precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother

Fire,

through whom You light the night; and he is

beautiful

and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister

Mother Earth,

who sustains us and governs us and who

produces

varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord, through those who

give pardon for Your love,

and bear infirmity and tribulation.

Blessed are those who endure in peace

for by You, Most High, they shall be

crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister

Bodily Death,

from whom no living man can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin.

Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most

holy will,

for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give Him

thanks, and serve Him with great humility.

Amen.

 

Click here to see my interview about this series, Lent with St. Francis, with Will Wright from Good Distinctions.

You can find Lenten chaplet playlists here to help facilitate meditation on the Passion of Christ.

Read Lenten reflection series from past years here.

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