October is traditionally known as “Respect Life Month.” We also celebrate the Feasts of two powerful saints during October: Saint Francis of Assisi on October 4 and Saint Theresa of Avila on October 15. How can these two saints enhance our own awareness and celebration of respect for all life?
If any saint could be called an “environmentalist” it would be Saint Francis. He seemed to possess a singular ability to view all of life as sacred and worthy of respect, care, and praise. His “The Canticle of the Creatures” is a magnificently-rich prayer that acknowledges all of creation as “good” and calls to give God praise, honor, and glory:
The Canticle of the Creatures
by Saint Francis of Assisi, 1225 AD
Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honour, and all blessing,
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no human is worthy to mention Your name.
Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour;
and bears a likeness to You, Most High One.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
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,
and who produces varied fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.
A simple activity to engage your whole parish would be to invite people of all ages to illustrate the prayer, each person or family taking one phrase. Encourage the adults in a family to work with and help the children so they can truly claim the results as a family project. The discussion of the meaning of the phrase, the effort to work together on the project, the care to include everyone’s creativity, and the completion of the picture will be rewarding. If you provide the paper, colored pencils, markers, and/or crayons along with encouragement, and then display the end results, the entire prayer community will be enriched by a sense of ownership, a deeper understanding of the connection between the creation story in Genesis 2 and our present-day call by God to be careful stewards of this one earth. Stewardship committees, environmental committees, and garden committees (just to name a few), can all build upon this whole-community approach to formation.
A similar project could be launched within a school setting. Perhaps the principal of the school would want to engage each class with the task of illustrating a specific verse of the prayer. The end result would be a unifying display throughout the entire school—from the youngest child to those preparing to graduate—on one theme.
The second saint we can turn to for guidance is Theresa of Avila. Our faith challenges us to see the face of Christ in everyone we meet. As disciples of Jesus, we seek to serve our Lord in the needs of God’s people. Respect life committees, prison ministries, food pantries, St. Vincent de Paul chapters, outreach for the elderly groups, and meal programs provide multiple opportunities to embody the prayer of Saint Theresa of Avila into our expressed faith-life. We literally become the Body of Christ for our time.
And again, within the arena of a school or classroom, studying this prayer, imagining how it applies to how we treat one another or developing a discussion on the power of mutual respect (as opposed to bullying) could be very helpful.
From garden projects that teach children the source of their food, to providing healthy garden produce for the hungry, to collaborative efforts that cross committee as well as parish boundaries, celebrating “respect life” month offers rich opportunities that can translate into a year-round focus and outreach.
And what better way to end a month of respecting life than by beginning the next month, November, with the realization that we stand on the shoulders of all those good saints (named or not) who have gone before us and for whom we have been named? We come from a long line of faithful believers whose “family trait” is one of respecting life in all its forms.
The Communion of Saints is celebrated on November 1. Encouraging students to research stories about particular saints and/or to come dressed as one of those saints could be a fun and formational opportunity for respecting all of life. And because we recognize that all life is a gift from God and all life is precious, we seek to express that belief in the manner in which we live our Catholic Faith. It’s the only way to be the Church.
June Wessa is a married mother & grandmother who serves the Church. She has been an elementary classroom teacher, a DRE, and, most recently, a Pastoral Associate. She is a writer, retreat director, and spiritual director.