December 12.   Sister Mother Earth.     Canticle 7.    PRAISED BE YOU, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.   Theologians commenting on the life and teaching of St Francis speak of the earth as God’s house and oikos. Mother Earth is very much the foundation of the natural environment, the soil of the earth in which plants grow, provides nourishment. Mother Earth is also the land on which animals live and on which farmers grow their crops.  The state and condition of Mother Earth is key to the wellbeing of all of creation. Each member of creation supports and sustains others in a vast food web, a circle of life of which humanity is only a part.  Ecology is a relatively new science and a vital one in our day. Natural changes in vegetation occur periodically, but far greater is the impact of man’s recent interventions.  The move from the rural to the urban changes the setting, over-grazing by domestic animals, depleting nutrients from incorrect farming methods on land and deforestation, as well as the effects of industries and mining on the environment rob Mother Earth of the gifts she offers. 

The circle of life consists of producers, consumers and decomposers in nature, but is also influenced powerfully by human interference and technology. It is noted that industrial agriculture and GMO to increase yield of food products is threatening the ecological basis for life.  As in other areas of creation a growing understanding of eco-balance and creation is essential.   Combatting overproduction, chemical poisoning, reduction and management of waste and pollution are core problems of today.    (From Laudato Si’ and Care for Creation.)

But not everything has to be practical and useful.  St Francis cherished the beauty of nature, and even insisted on an area in the friary garden for natural wild flowers.  Consider the lilies of the field, they neither toil no spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.   Luke 12:27.  

Pope Francis:  This Sister, Mother Earth 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.  LS2.   For reflection and sharing:   What are we humans to do?  Managing our ecological footprint is a good exercise to start. Consider what is appropriate in individual cases to support Mother Earth.   Depending on where we live, growing our own food gardens is becoming popular, not unlike subsistence farming which is still the way of life of millions of people all over the world.  Ant farms, earth worm farms, making compost out of kitchen scraps are becoming popular with health-conscious people too.

December 14.  Pope Francis and Sister Mother Earth.  In Laudato si’ in taking up the issues of climate change, and environmental matters he follows in the footsteps of St Francis.  Very recently in his Fratelli Tutti he addresses the human side more specifically on fraternity and social friendship between all people and all religions.   He acknowledges and pays tribute to St Francis. In the chapter on “The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis” from Laudato Si’ 101 he notes and discusses how much has changed especially in the last 200 years and how it continues to change at an ever increasing pace.  To mention just a few; from steam engines, electricity, automobiles, aeroplanes, chemical industries, modern medicine to the digital revolution there is much to admire and over which to rejoice.  “Yet there is a tendency for society to believe that every increase in power means an increase of progress itself, an advance in security, usefulness, welfare and vigour, as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such.  The fact is that contemporary man has not been trained to use power well. Our technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience.” LS105.  

There is strong criticism and focus on the negative aspects of so-called development and the harm inflicted on Mother Earth but along with St Francis there is also the message of God’s presence in all of creation, the need for ecological conversion, education and for spirituality.   It could be said that climate change as an environmental crisis – and for us in this year 2020 faced with the COVID-19 pandemic  also a human and social disaster – is an extraordinary opportunity for conversion, for repentance and to grow in relationships with God, with the family of families in nature and in all of humanity, especially with those who are suffering.          

Laudato Si’ 84 states, “each creature has its own purpose.  The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us.   Soil, water, mountains, everything is a caress of God.”  In Fratelli Tutti 8 he invites,  “It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity, between all men and women. Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation. How important it is to dream together. Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.“     If St Francis were alive in 2020 he would no doubt agree 100%.  For reflection and sharing:   As family members, research, read up and share more from these encyclicals of Pope Francis. What action can be taken personally or communally?

December 15.   Michelle asked her mom, “Please tell us that story about St Francis and the birds.” “There’s more to the story than birds, as you will hear,” was her reply.   

A story from The Little Flowers of St Francis.   Francis’ Preaching to the birds.  At one time Francis had asked Clare and Brother Silvester if he should spend his life in prayer or in preaching.   Having received the answer from God that he should preach he set out with Brother Masseo.   When he came to a town and began to preach he first told the swallows, who were calling out loudly, to keep silence and they obeyed. He preached with such fervour that many of the inhabitants of the town wished to follow him, but Francis would not let them leave their homes and daily lives.  He therefore founded the Secular Third Order for the salvation of everyone.  Leaving the town he came to a spot where he saw on some trees by the wayside a great multitude of birds.  Making his companions wait he went to preach to the birds on the ground; and those on the trees also came and listened. He said to them, “My little sisters, the birds, you owe much to God, your Creator and you should sing his praise at all times and in all places because he has given you the freedom to fly about. And though you neither spin nor sew he has given you twofold and threefold clothing for yourselves and your offspring. He has given you fountains and rivers to quench your thirst, mountains and valleys in which to take refuge and trees in which to build your nests.  Your Creator loves you much. Beware, my little sisters, of the sin of ingratitude and study always to give praise to God.” The birds began to open their beaks, stretch their necks, spread their wings and reverently bow their heads to the ground. He made the sign of the cross and gave them leave to fly away. Then all those birds rose up into the air, singing most sweetly and they divided themselves into four companies. One company flew towards the east, one towards the west, one to the south and one to the north, signifying that St Francis, the bearer of the Cross of Christ, had made the sign of the cross over them. Renewed by St Francis they would carry the preaching of the Cross of Christ over all the world, and like them, the humble friars should possess nothing but should cast all the care of their lives on the providence of God. 

Scripture:   The sparrows don’t sow or reap and your Father feeds them. Matthew 10:29-31, Pope Francis:  When we see God reflected in all that exists, our hearts are moved to praise the Lord for all his creatures and to worship him in union with them.   LS87.  For reflection and sharing: Consider and share on the important role that bird families play in the whole ecosystem of creation.