In preparation for this week’s virtual pilgrimage, let us consider The Canticle of Brother Sun by St. Francis of Assisi.
The Canticle of Brother Sun
Most High, omnipotent, good Lord, to You praise, glory and honor and all benediction. To You alone, Most High, do they belong, and there is no one worthy to mention You. Praised be my Lord, by means of all Your creatures, and most especially by Sir Brother Sun, who makes the day, and illumines us by his light: for he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor; and is a symbol of You, God most High. Praised be my Lord, by means of Sister Moon and all the stars: for in heaven You have placed them, clear, precious and fair. Praised be my Lord, by means of Brother Wind, and by means of the air, the clouds, and the clear sky and every kind of weather, through which You give Your creatures nourishment. Praised be my Lord, by means of Sister Water: for she is very useful, humble, precious and chaste. Praised be my Lord, by means of Brother Fire, by whom You do illumine the night: for he is fair and gay and mighty and strong. Praised be my Lord, by means of our sister Mother Earth, which sustains us and keeps us, and brings forth varied fruits with colored flowers and leaves. Praised be my Lord, through those who give pardon for love of You, and suffer infirmity and tribulation. Blessed are they who endure all in peace, for they, O God most High, will be crowned by You. Praised be my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death, from whom no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! But blessed are those found in Your most holy Will, for the second death will do them no harm. Praise and bless my Lord, and thank Him, and serve Him with great humility.
Most, if not all, of St. Francis’ prayers are either his praise of God or a call to join him in praising God. The Canticle of Brother Sun exhorts God’s creation to join with him in praise of the Creator. Specifically, St. Francis calls eight: Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Sister Water, Brother Fire, Mother Earth, those who give pardon for love of God, and finally Bodily Death. All of these we may know in our own lives, and may have experienced even during quarantine.
St. Francis of Assisi describes the gifts given by God to each as a means of praise. Beginning with Brother Sun, he writes, “for he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,” which are from God so that the sun may “make the day.” Francis of Assisi adds, “and is a symbol of You, God most High.” Is this also a gift? To be honest, I am not certain. But it is a wonderful thought, that God lights the day for our souls like Brother Sun brings light to our bodies. Even when the sky is cloudy and we cannot see the sun, we know he is there.
The saint of Assisi continues with “Sister Moon and all the stars,” naming them “clear, precious, and fair.” He calls Brother Wind “by means of the air, the clouds, and the clear sky, and every kind of weather” to come together with him in praising the Lord. For God allows us to breathe the air. He gives us the warmth of the sun on a clear day, and He gives us water when it rains.
Sister Water, St. Francis calls “useful, humble, precious and chaste,” and Brother Fire, he names “fair and gay and mighty and strong.” Mother Earth, whom is also called sister, “sustains us and keeps us.” Since God made us of the dust of the earth, Sister Earth is also called Mother, by her, we may grow food and, on her, we make our home.
Next, St. Francis calls “those who give pardon for love of You, and suffer infirmity and tribulation.” He means us. We all suffer infirmity and tribulation in our own way, but we ought also to forgive. Forgiveness should not be because we desire God to look on us more kindly, but out of love for God who is willing to forgive. Francis of Assisi reminds us of God’s blessing, “for they, O God most High, will be crowned by You.”
Near the end, even our sister, Bodily Death, is called upon to praise God. For by Bodily Death is the wheat, “those found in Your most holy Will,” separated from the chaff, “those who die in mortal sin.”
Resources: The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi translated by Ignatius Brady OFM (Edizioni Porziuncola, Assisi), 2010.