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In St. Francis’ Footsteps

Loving God First, Then Caring for His Creation

St. Francis of Assisi is often associated with the love of nature. He was even named patron saint of ecologists in 1979. While it is true that he had a profound appreciation and love for nature, it was through his eyes of amazing faith and love for the Lord that he could see God in all of creation.

With the increasing emphasis on environmental awareness within our Catholic Church — using saints like St. Francis as a model — we must stress the need first to have that same love and faith in God as the renown Italian friar. Our advocacy for the environment and the care for nature must be correctly oriented toward God.

What is the correct orientation?

Any journey must start with living out the commandments to love God above all and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Putting anything, even the love for planet earth, above the love for God or man would be wrong. We see the ramifications with political candidates who rank high on environmental issues but then support abortion, assisted suicide or euthanasia. There are some who show great concern over environmental degradation, who say they are worried about what we are leaving for future generations, then support killing through abortion of those little lives who should be part of that future generation.

So, correct orientation to the environment is seeing God in all living things and loving him first and foremost. With that as a prerequisite, the love for nature is an extension of the love for God. Otherwise, we fall into idolatry by loving the thing for itself or loving the thing for self-gratification or even self-preservation.

Our faithful partners

A danger we may face is having to set our beliefs aside to join secular environmental crusades. For example, one prominent environmental organization is vocal in its support for abortion, as captured in an article entitled “Reproductive Rights and Environmental Justice are Deeply Connected.”

Care must be given with whom we partner to ensure that the good that results is not marred by evil means. As Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has reminded us, “How can we separate, or even set at odds, the protection of the environment and the protection of human life, including the life of the unborn?” There are organizations that support climate justice that also are in communion with the Church, including the Laudato si’ Movement, laudatosimovement.org, and the Catholic Climate Covenant, catholicclimatecovenant.org.

As Catholics, we are becoming more active in caring for our planet, which is as it should be — God instructed us to do so with his creation after he “looked at everything he had made, and found it very good” (Gen 1:31). We must also be true to our faith and keep all of God’s commandments. Let’s pray to and with St. Francis that we who care for the environment do so only, and always, for the greater glory of God.


Cynthia J. Wood, JD, is a writer and presenter. She worked for 40 years as an environmental scientist with the Corps of Engineers. Email her at cjwood013@gmail.com.