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The Radical Compassion of St. Francis

V.R. MARYANNE ZHAN: ‘There are those who say compassion for animals is nice, but we ought to have compassion on our fellow humans first… Just looking at the headlines, it’s clear that we as a species have trouble offering even basic compassion. Our hearts are naturally hard and we have to work at being kind… St. Francis was familiar with the hard- heartedness of human nature… The most well-known story about Francis is that one day when traveling with his brother friars, he stopped and told them, “Wait here. I have to go preach to my sisters, the birds…” They found him in a clearing with dozens of birds gathered around him, even resting on his shoulders and in his hands. There they remained until he told them his sermon was over and they could go in peace. They all flew away instantly.

That story may be only a legend, but Francis calling the birds his sisters is true. From the small amount of writings passed down to us, it’s clear that he did often personify animals and elements of nature by calling them brother or sister. Sweet. But Francis was not being cute. He was acting on his deeply held belief that to call someone brother or sister, whether an animal or another human, is to honor them as equal. Francis did not hold himself higher than even the least of God’s creatures…

Like a bird resting in the hand of a saint, we are resting in the hand of God. Secure in that knowledge, we can have compassion, not only on our own selves and those we love, but even for the hard-heartedness of humanity and even unto the whole of creation… May all beings, without exception, be peaceful, may they be free from harm, may all beings, without exception, be happy’. SOURCE…


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