Join Dina Marie Hale of Faith Moments as she speaks with Fr. Dan Pattee, TOR, about the remarkable story of Saint Francis, the Canticle of the Sun, and the plague of rats.
Read the summary of this story below, or listen to the full episode to learn about Saint Francis’ attitude of surrender and how the Franciscan Community celebrate their founders’ feast day.
The Story of the Canticle of the Sun
October 4 is the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, one of the Catholic Church’s most venerated and beloved saints. Saint Francis is known for his ministry to the poor and underprivileged, his care for nature, and the founding of the Franciscan Order.
While Francis had a very positive affirmation of the goods of creation and God’s creatures, if we miss the centrality of Christ in his life, we miss his purpose and meaning in life. This man was profoundly dedicated to Christ, even to the point of wanting to give his life. He was on fire with love for Jesus, and that really is at the core of this saint.
Francis wrote a wonderful poem of praise called the Canticle of the Sun. At this time in his life, he had just come back from having tried to convert the Sultan, with the disappointment of not being martyred. He returned to Assisi in 1221 to finish writing the official rule of the First Order Franciscans, undergoing a dark and difficult period because so many friars resisting his vision of the rule.
At this time, Francis was also suffering from different physical illnesses. It is believed that Francis contracted malaria during his journey to the Sultan, which meant that he was spiking a fever every 72 hours. He was also suffering from a disease of his eyes and was legally blind by today’s standards.
Francis was trying to get to a doctor who was going to cauterize from the eye to the ear, which was the treatment for this at the time. On his way to this procedure, heavy snow in Assisi trapped Francis and his few companions at San Damiano, where Saint Clare and her nuns lived. Not wanting to encroach upon the cloister of the ladies, Francis chose to sleep downstairs in the dungeon on the floor.
He was laying there alone in the dark one night, not able to see, and he experienced what is known as the plague of the rats. Rats came and just started crawling on his body for the duration of the night. Francis went into a period of self-pity during the night. When morning came, he berated himself for this.
At that moment, Francis conceived the Canticle of the Creatures as a way of countering his self-pity. He was literally blind and could not see what he was praising, but he had the memory of it in his soul, and so began to praise God.
The Canticle of the Sun
Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessings.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention Your name.
Praised be You, my Lord, with all your creatures;
especially Brother Sun, who is the day, and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
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 which You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which 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 Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored 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, they shall be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man 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.
Francis wrote this after a night when he was tempted to turn in on himself, away from the Lord, and start to feel sorry for himself. After everything he’d been through, he broke out into this canticle of praise to God to put it all back into balance. It is a beautiful testimony to the spirit of Francis.
Listen to the full interview below to learn about Saint Francis’ attitude of surrender to God and the traditions surrounding his feast day.