All creatures of the earth feel like us, all creatures strive for happiness as we do. All the creatures of the earth love, suffer and die like us, so they are like the works of the almighty Creator – our brothers.
Francis of Assisi (1182 – 1226), actually Giovanni Bernadone, Catholic saint, founder of the Franciscan fraternity
It is not by chance that the World Animal Day coincides with the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi (at least for most of the Christian churches), but it was probably Franz, who founded the Order of the Friars Minor, the Franciscan, anything but honored to be holy on it. On the contrary, he did not want to be isolated from the people and all other creatures, but he wanted to be in the middle of it, to meet man, the animal, the life, with all his might, ruthlessly and openly. I could even imagine that he would have rejected this “honor” even if he had known about it, but at the time of a canonization, one must inevitably be dead. So cannot get involved anymore.
Nevertheless, this canonization is noteworthy, for at a time when the church was collaborating with those in power, pomp and trepidation were common in ecclesiastical circles, he denounced precisely this. This lifestyle of abundance and oppression. His strict interpretation of the teachings of Jesus brought him more enemies than friends, for he presented the church dignitaries with a mirror into which they were to look every minute of their ministry: the mirror of Jesus. Undressed, with nothing but what he carried on his back, he did not hesitate to denounce these abuses and to give an example in his life of what it would look like, the imitation of Christ. But perhaps that was precisely the reason for speaking it sacred, for when a person proves to be holy in the eyes of men, he is excluded from the vicious circle of the living. There is no need to make an effort, because the saint, that is the separate, who creates something that a normal mortal man does not create anyway. That’s why it’s impressive, but it has no consequences. An incredibly perfidious way of rendering his opponents harmless in their own ranks.
But what was Franz about his lack of property? He wanted to show that possession always claims a part of our powers, in the form of securing the property. Because as soon as I own something, I’m worried that someone will come and take it away from me. As a result of the size of the estate, the concern for it increases, the more forces must be applied to the possession, the fewer forces remain for coexistence and affection. Anyone who keeps an eye on his bank account, stock prices, has no eye for his fellow human being, becomes dulled by the suffering and misfortune that he no longer sees. So, it’s not about ownership being bad in itself, but obsession with ownership. It makes man lonely and averted. Not only by fellow human beings, but also by all other fellow creatures.
Franz was consistent in his devotion to life. When he speaks of the pursuit of happiness, he does not stop at human. And even when loving and suffering and dying his focus includes everything alive. Thus, anyone who truly turns to life and takes his or her being seriously, cannot stop at human. There is no either or, but only a both as well. So, he would not put himself on the pedestal of holiness. He would go down and take the suffering seriously, in whatever form it appears. In his work he has overcome the demand for domination by recognizing all creatures of God as equal and acting accordingly for them.
Not ruler, not even shepherd, no, fellow creature, nothing more.
That’s the explosiveness that goes with this man, then and now. For a church, a society that kneels with joy in front of power and possessions, has lost both God and society as living together. The Golden Calf is still danced and worshiped, albeit in many forms. But there is still the reminder of a man who is just as relevant today as he was 900 years ago.