Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity share a favorite stained glass window from our St. Francis Chapel, Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The artisan presents a colorful picture reflection of St. Francis of Assisi who felt himself a brother to his friars and Sister Clare and Nuns, but also called sun, sea, wind and animals his brothers and sisters. God inspired him to call even the animals his brothers and sisters. He walked beside the abandoned, the infirmed and the outcast, the least of God’ children.
What did being a brother and sister mean to this patron saint of Assisi, Italy?
There are many stories of friendship with St. Francis and his brothers. We know his friendship with Sister Clare was important as well. It moved Clare to lead a monastic life and leave beyond all semblance of power and riches unlike other contemplative women of her day.
Relationship as Told in the Rule of the Third Order Regular
The Rule of the Third Order Regular explains why this brother, sister relationship is important.
In Chapter III #10 The brothers and sisters are to praise the Lord, the king of heaven and earth with all his creatures and to give Him thanks because, by his own holy will and through his only Son with the Holy Spirit, He has created all things spiritual and material and made us in his own image and likeness.
This is affirmed in Chapter 11 of the Gospel of Matthew: At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.
Thomas of Celano shreds light on this fraternal view: “Once Francis was sitting in a boat near a port in the lake of Rieti. A fisherman who had just caught a large carp rowed over to the saint and kindly offered him the fish. Francis accepted it joyfully and gracefully, and immediately began calling it “Brother.” Then he placed the fish gently in the water and began praising the name of the Lord. But all the while Francis prayed, the fish continued to play beside the boat and would not leave until Francis finished his prayer and gave it permission to leave. And so it was that Francis’ total obedience to God gave him great dignity before creatures, who in turn obeyed him.”
– Thomas of Celano
What about this window?
The stained glass window seems to document that friars and many other people witnessed Francis’ extraordinary rapport with the animal kingdom. In significant Franciscan sources it is recorded that he called various animals brother and sister among them a falcon, a lamb, a crow, a nest of robins, a pheasant, a cricket and a wolf. It was in the city of Gubbio that Francis spoke to a wolf that had been terrorizing the citizens. He liked to put honey into beehives to provide food for the half frozen bees. He would stoop to remove earthworms from his path so as not to crush them. At Lake Trasymene, he made friends with a wild rabbit who would not leave his side.
St. Francis loved creatures, not because they were helpful or because he enjoyed their companionship. No, they reminded him of God. In addition to the animal kingdom, Francis felt a strong kinship with the elements of the earth which he also regarded as his brothers and sisters. He called the moon his “sister,” and the sun, his “brother.”
Psalm 8 captures St. Francis feelings: When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your hands, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor.
– Psalm 8:3-5
Is God calling you to follow Jesus as a Franciscan Sister? We invite you.