Sunday, September 20, 2015

Franciscans and Creation

The Vestiges of the Creator
     Francis bore a very great affection for all things that are God’s.  He contemplated with ineffable sweetness the wisdom, power, and goodness of the Creator in creatures.  Just as is related in the Book of Daniel of the three youths in the fiery furnace who invited all creatures to praise and glorify the Creator of the universe, so also Francis never ceased to adore the Lord in all things, in all the elements and creatures.  He used to gather the worms from the road, for he had read this about Christ: “I am a worm, not a man.” Likewise bees and flowers and every creature received his reverence.

     While Christianity was still very young, the Gnostic heresy arose.  Different variations of it have arisen throughout the centuries and, taken together, form a pattern in which one can observe a principle in clear opposition to Saint Francis’ view of creation.  This heresy emphasized the mind and the spiritual to the extent that material reality was considered worthless, even evil.  It has struck some as strange that corruptible things could be traced back to a Good God.  There have been attempts to live by the mind, or to travel about in a disembodied soul before one’s own death. Manichaeism, with which Saint Augustine was associated with for a time before his conversion, taught that there were two “gods” or principles: one good, a creator of good, and the other evil, a creator of evil or corruptible things.  This extreme led many to consider marriage and the begetting of children to be evil, since it promoted the material world. 

   Saint Francis had a pure and firm faith in God as Origin, Creator, and Sovereign over all that exists.  God is from Eternity, without beginning, and without change.  He created the heavens and the earth, the seas and the dry land, and all that is in them.  He formed man out of the slime of the earth and breathed into him a living soul.  He saw that all this was very good.  God Himself, as fullness of Being, is the center and origin of all Goodness, Beauty, Strength, and Life.  Death and decay have no part in Him, and indeed, death and decay are the natural consequence of separation from Him.  God does not create evil.  In fact, it is impossible for evil to have a creator.  Why?  Evil is that which is not, a corruption of that which is, a nothingness where something once was, a lack of the fullness of being. It comes from turning from the wholesomeness of God and seeking a false alternative which can only end in total deterioration.

   This view led Saint Francis to see the world as sacred, as the property of God Himself.  Who would face the Lord of all Creation and despise or mistreat the work of His Hands?  Moreover, it is necessary for the rational creature to adore the Creator in all His Works.  One who does not see God in those things that He has made lacks knowledge and understanding of Him, while the one who truly knows God will recognize Him in everything. He will note in the smallest flower the exquisite and incomparable touch of the Divine Artist.  He will sense in the varied songs and swift flight of birds the soaring melody of the Eternal One.  For Saint Francis, failure to attribute even the smallest detail of creation to the Creator is robbery.

  A Poor Clare grows, matures, and blossoms in the presence of nature.  She finds in it the healing balm of the reality of God’s Goodness and Beauty.  As a poor and humble pilgrim on this earth she basks in the sun that He makes to rise upon the good and bad alike.  As a daughter in the Father’s House she freely partakes of the abundance of His Gifts which no human hands could fashion.  With her own hands she tenderly cultivates such plants and flowers as the Lord will provide, and treats every creature with respect.  To her eyes every sunset sky and every blossoming tree are the artistry of her Bridegroom given as a pledge of His Enduring Love.  Like Saint Francis, his Poor Clare daughters come to surpassing joy, gratitude, and reverence by finding God in the wonders of His World.

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