Thursday, October 25, 2012


Giotto di Bondone

St. Francis of Assisi is one of two patron saints of Italy and many cities and towns throughout the world. He's also the patron saint of animals and ecology, and his feast day, October 4, is often celebrated with a Blessing of the Animals.

St. Francis of Assisi left a legacy filled with amazing stories about his life, any one of which can be a powerful example for us to follow on our own spiritual journey. (Earlier St. Francis posts cover his early years, his role in the life of St. Clare, and his attempt to create peace in the Middle East.)

Why then, is he known mostly as the patron saint of animals and ecology and why is his feast day usually celebrated with a Blessing of the Animals?

Over the centuries, hagiographers (biographers of saints) have written much about St. Francis:  from The Little Flowers of Saint Francis by Fr. Ugolino Brunforte completed in 1328 to Francis of Assisi: A New Biography by Augustine Thompson, O.P., published in 2012 – from beloved legends to cross-referenced, historical-document proved facts. But stronger than all the words written about St. Francis are the words he wrote himself:

Canticle of the Sun

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace,
for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve him with great humility.

St. Francis wrote “Canticle of the Sun” as a hymn and sang it with his brothers shortly before he died. Also know as “Praise of the Creatures,” it is believed to be one of the first works of literature written in the Italian language. (Another reason in a long list of reasons why St. Francis is one of my top favorite saints.)

He names all life forms directly “creatures.” Human beings fit into this category. And like all other life forms, we praise God through our very existence, as God is within us and within all life. 

St. Francis takes it a step further, by naming that which is inanimate starting with Brother Sun. Francis delights in the similarities between the sun and the Son, radiant light and all. God is everywhere, in what He created like the moon and the stars, or in human actions such as forgiving someone, or enduring sickness and trial.

This ability to see God in everyone and everything is remembered through St. Francis’s love of animals. On several occasions, he wept so passionately at the sight of a lamb being brought to slaughter, that alms were quickly collected in order to purchase the lamb and allow it a full life.

Many other stories grew out of the love Francis had for all animals, some true, some legendary, and some that are based on truth but exaggerated into legend:

One day while traveling near Bevagna in the Spolento Valley, Francis approached a large flock of birds by the side of the road. He greeted them, “The Lord give you peace.”

They didn’t fly away. So he preached to them about the glory of God. He told the birds to sing the praises of God, too. As he raised his hand to bless them with the sign of the cross, they flew off with a great flutter and loud bird song.

This simple story was later exaggerated into the “Sermon of the Birds,” which first appeared in The Little Flowers of St. Francis.

Whether Francis loved birds so much because of their appearance in the Gospel, or if his biographers made their own connections to Francis’s love of birds and Jesus’ use of birds in his teachings doesn’t really matter. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to birds as an example of appropriate living and trust in God for all needs:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:25-27 (NIV)

Francis lived his life following the Way and words of Jesus Christ – do not store food for tomorrow, trust that the Lord will provide.

(In a later post, I’ll discuss the frustration Francis felt as he tried to teach all of his brothers to live day-to-day through his own example while realizing that the increasingly large number of followers made that impossible.)

By living day-to-day, Francis depended on the hospitality of others to provide his food, whether as alms or an invitation to a meal.

If invited to a meal, Francis ate whatever was served to him with great appreciation and humbleness. One could wonder how he could eat meat when he loved animals so much and experienced such pain at the thought of their slaughter. Mostly, it was due to his gracious acceptance of a gift. Through his host or alms giver, God provided food to Francis, and he would never refuse such a blessed gift.

Francis observed fast days and celebrated feast days with the same rigor. He referred to his body as Brother Ass (donkey) especially when he was ill. It pained him to have to eat extra or special food during an illness as it interrupted his worship of God though fasting. On the other hand, feast days were cause for worshipful celebration. 

One year Christmas Day fell on a weekly observed fast day. According to his first biographer, Thomas of Celano, one of the brothers brought the problem to Francis:

“Christmas Day is Friday. Do we feast or fast?”

Francis exclaimed, “Even the walls should feast on Christmas Day!”

You can’t beat a line like that - it says it all.



The Little Flowers of Saint Francis by Fr. Ugolino Brunforte
Francis of Assisi: A New Biography by Augustine Thompson, O.P.
The Francis Trilogy: The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano


What would I serve a guest like St. Francis, someone who is so grateful to be at your table they don’t care what you’ll serve? Definitely something that I love to eat, is perfect for the season, and reminds me of home:

Cheerie’s Apple Pie

Cheerie is my mother. She made 50 pies at a time in our family’s bakery. Apple is my father’s favorite. A is for apple and Albert.

Use local grown or organic apples. Since writing my last post St. Jude and Applesauce, I’ve discovered that the use of pesticides and nitrogen fertilizer makes commercial apples big, juicy and sweet. But compared to organic apples, commercial apples are lacking in nutrients, and natural antibacterial and antioxidants. (See sources.)

Plus, commercial apples tend to be too juicy for pie. If you do use commercial apples, prepare the filling then put it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or over night so that the extra juices can leach out of the apple slices. You can then drain away the juice before placing the filling in the pie plate.   

Apple Filling


Approximately 10 cups of peeled, sliced apples. (Go with your favorite variety, mine is mountain grown Honey Crisp.)
1 ½ tablespoons flour
1 cup sugar
1 to 1 ½ teaspoons of cinnamon
½ teaspoon of nutmeg
½ teaspoon of salt

 1. Mix dry ingredients together before sprinkling into bowl of apple slices. Combine with spoon or your clean hand. Set aside.

 2. Spray cooking oil into 9-inch glass pie plate. This will help the crust turn golden brown and crispy.

 3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.



2 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ cups cold butter
½ to ¾ cup very cold water

 1. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.

 2. Cut butter into dry ingredients with a pastry blender or two knives.

 3. Slowly add water and stir.

 4. Eventually you’ll need to mix the ingredients with your hands.

 5. Being careful not to over mix, knead until the dough is in a ball shape with a smooth texture.

 6. Cut in half.

 7. Sprinkle some flour on a clean counter and roll out the dough with a rolling pin until about ¼ inch thick or can fit into the pie plate and overlap the edges a bit.


 1.  Carefully lift the edges and drag into the pie plate.

 2.  Pour apple mixture into pie plate.

 3.  Roll out other half of dough.

 4. Drag onto top of pie.

 5. Pinch the edges of the pie to seal. You can be as creative or as carefree as you want here. My mom's instructions in the bakery were, “Do it sloppy so it seems more like homemade.”

 6. With a fork or knife poke holes into the top of the pie to let out the steam.

 7. Using a pastry brush or your hand, spread a little water onto the pie dough to help it brown nicely.

 8. Place pie plate on a baking sheet with foil.

 9. Place baking sheet on the bottom oven rack.

10. Bake at 425 degrees F for 25 minutes.

11. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F for another 45 minutes or until browned. The bottom and sides of pie should be a golden brown and the filling should be bubbling and steaming.

Since oven temperatures vary, keep some foil handy to loosely cover the top of the pie or the edges of the pie if the top of the pie browns significantly before the bottom. 

Allow to cool at least 30 minutes before you serve with vanilla ice cream.


1 comment:

Rebecca Petruck said...

"Sermon of the Birds" Love that! There's a story here, for sure.