The Canticle of the Creatures for Saint Francis of Assisi
As I read Santucci’s book, I learned more about this well-known saint, for example the fact that he is the patron saint of ecology and possessed a deep appreciation for nature and her creatures. My favorite part of the book, and what I believe to be the book’s greatest strength, is the point of view in which it is written. Santucci writes about Saint Francis in a nontraditional way using the perspective of the animals he interacted with and loved dearly. Each short section is a story of the heart and soul of Saint Francis told by worms, sparrows, wolves, and deer. They tell of his humility in the way he approached them, not seeing himself as better or superior, but as an equal part of the web of life. He referred to them as Brother and Sister and didn’t withhold the love and truth of God from them. Saint Francis saw these creatures for who they really were — created, loved, and adored by God. And the creatures comment on the saint’s childlike spirit “approaching them as when you were five or six years old” (5), with unfiltered love and care.
The nightingale reminds the reader of the truth that all of creation is being restored to God and that all the creatures, elements, and mountains of the planet — all of creation — deserves holiness. She says, “If holiness means to do God’s will, this we have been doing peacefully and joyfully for millions of years” (7). How humbling! We ascend our thrones and think that we are superior to animals and the natural world — we exploit the earth’s resources, pillage, raid, and deplete. We consume, destroy, disrupt, and dominate. But sweet Sister Nightingale reminds us that we are no more than dirt and dust, made from the same stuff as the rest of the earth. Creation simply exists in the way God made it to be and that alone brings God glory. We have a lot to learn from the rivers and streams, valleys and prairies, the crow and the squirrel. I am reminded of Thomas Merton’s words found in New Seeds of Contemplation when he says, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying God”.
One last example of the unconditional and pure love with which Saint Francis loved the creatures of our earth is found in Brother Worm’s story. He says, “Only a poet, who knew well how to share the absurd love of Christ, remembered us, poor filthy creatures, and wished to describe us as the shocking Glory with which our Savior deigned to clothe himself” (81). Worms are the “least of these” and Saint Francis followed in the way of Christ in loving the least of these as directed by Jesus in scripture (Matthew 25:40). Saint Francis has set a prime example of what it means to love all of our Brothers and Sisters, not just the human ones.
After reading this book, hearing the stories of the creatures, and encountering the spirit of Saint Francis, I realized that he truly is giving us his blessing each time we walk by his statue in the garden and step into his world. And his world is a world of wonder and whimsy and mystical love.