Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind and Sister Water

On October 4, Christians everywhere celebrate the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, and the founder of the Franciscan Order. On a Sunday near October 4, churches will often have an outdoor “Blessing of the Animals”, as St. Alban’s did this past Sunday. In all the years that I have blessed animals on this event, there has never been hostility in the menagerie – it is truly amazing! All the dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, birds, fish and snakes seem pleased to be there. I have looked into their eyes, laid my hand on their head (unless it was under water), and said a blessing. It seems that the animals recognize the blessing as inclusion in the family of God.

Why do we bless animals, birds, and fish? Because God entrusted us with their care. In the beginning…God made every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:20, 25) God created them all and said this is good. God also created humankind in God’s image and said, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. (Gen. 1:28) Dominion means to care for, protect and nurture, not exploit or enslave. Francis must have realized that in order for us to be caring of all God’s creation and creatures, one must recognize them as members of God’s family, as our brothers and sisters, and to protect them.

Francis and I would have gotten along well because I forget that my dog is a dog, and think of him more as a member of our family, and grieve terribly when one of my dogs dies. But I believe that any creature that loves another creature of God goes to heaven, including my dog, because God is love.

Of the several cantica in vulgari which St. Francis composed, the only one that has come down to us, as far as is known, is The Canticle of the Sun. Originally written in the Umbrian dialect of Italian, it has since been translated into many languages. The Canticle of the Sun thanks God for his relationship with Brother Sun and Sister Moon, Brother Wind and Sister Water and Mother Earth. It is a statement of Francis’ personal theology, based on Genesis, as he often referred to animals and aspects of God’s creation as his brothers and sisters. The ninth strophe was written when Francis realized that his own death was near. Francis’ creation theology has become the basis of our current environmental theology. Teach your children to respect and protect every part of creation and every creature of God as their neighbor and a member of God’s family.

Peace, Carol

Here is an English translation that attempts to match the rhythm of the original Italian.

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord,
Praise, glory and honor and benediction all, are Thine.
To Thee alone do they belong, most High,
And there is no man fit to mention Thee.

Praise be to Thee, my Lord, with all Thy creatures,
Especially to my worshipful brother sun,
which lights up the day, and through him dost Thou brightness give;
And beautiful is he and radiant with splendor great;
Of Thee, most High, signification gives.

Praised be my Lord, for sister moon and for the stars,
In heaven Thou hast formed them clear and precious and fair. p. 153

Praised be my Lord for brother wind
And for the air and clouds and fair and every kind of weather,
By the which Thou givest to Thy creatures nourishment.
Praised be my Lord for sister water,
The which is greatly helpful and humble and precious and pure.

Praised be my Lord for brother fire,
By the which Thou lightest up the dark.
And fair is he and gay and mighty and strong.

Praised be my Lord for our sister, mother earth,
The which sustains and keeps us
And brings forth diverse fruits with grass and flowers bright.

Praised be my Lord for those who for Thy love forgive
And weakness bear and tribulation.
Blessed those who shall in peace endure,
For by Thee, most High, shall they be crowned.

Praised be my Lord for our sister, the bodily death,
From the which no living man can flee.
Woe to them who die in mortal sin;
Blessed those who shall find themselves in Thy most holy will,
For the second death shall do them no ill.

Praise ye and bless ye my Lord, and give Him thanks,                       And be subject unto Him with great humility.

This entry was posted in The Rev. Dr. Carol M. Flett and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind and Sister Water

  1. yalilla says:

    Thanks for this, Dr. Flett, and for the lovely translation of the canticle. Your writing is always inspiring to me —-

  2. Anton Vanterpool II says:

    I observed a St Francis Blessing of the Animals event at St George’s, Glenn Dale last Saturday. The animals, two and four legged, even the stuffed ones were in community. I think the soothing music helped. During the choir pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi, I got to read the codice kept on the “Canticle of Brother Sun.” A thrill to get so close to the original lyrics of a well sung song. It’s like getting to read a original manuscript of John Newton’s “Amazing Grace.”

    • Anton Vanterpool II says:

      I meant “Canticle of The Sun.” The choir has sung “The Canticle of Brother Sun” which has lyrics from the St Francis prayer.

  3. Anton Vanterpool II says:

    As I’m drafting this post, at Busch Stadium, St Louis, MO, a squirrel darts in front of the batter’s box from one side of home plate to the other, while a pitch is in flight to the catcher. Batter, Catcher and squirrel survive the meeting at home plate. True story.

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