It was on the feast of St Francis of Assisi twenty-one years ago that I was elevated to the episcopate. I wrote of a mystical experience I had during the consecration itself in The Grail Church, page 101:
"The tranquil features of the emdieval saint appeared mementarily, like a pale image against the rich vestments of the consecrating prelate, but as the vision intensified it transformed from a representation of Cimabue's famous painting of the friar to that of Our Lord. ... St Francis, more than anyone, interprets Christ's challenge to all aspiring disciples with a freshness and a vitality. Christ, the only way to God, is our Master and gentle Francis is a fellow-disciple guiding us along the often difficult path all Christians must follow. The little saint suffered silently and painfully for the Church of the Middle Ages with its abuses, thinking he could change the proud prelates with their clerical pomp not by criticism but by holy humility and reverence. Undoubtedly some were transformed by his Christ-like example, but Franciscans have nevertheless been persecuted on occasions ..."
Founder of the Franciscan Order, born at Assisi in Umbria in 1181 or 1182 — the exact year is uncertain — St Francis died there on 3 October 1226. His feast is held on October 4th. Many of the stories that surround his life deal with his love for animals. One day, while Francis was travelling with some companions, they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to "wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds." The birds surrounded him, intrigued by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away.
St Francis preached the teaching of the Catholic Church, that the world was created good and beautiful by God but suffers a need for redemption because of the primordial sin of man. He preached to man and beast the universal ability and duty of all creatures to praise God, and the duty of men to protect and enjoy nature as both the stewards of God's creation and as creatures ourselves.
Saint Francis' Canticle of All Creatures
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather's moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.
Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.
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 our Sister,
Mother Earth who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon
for love of You and bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
By You Most High, they will be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.
Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility..