Lose all Your Stuff, Seek Nature, and Find Happiness. The Bible Says So.

Pope Francis finished his inaugural visit to the United States at the end of last month; and though the days continue to march on and quickly eclipse his brief time spent here, I am still enthralled and encouraged by his message of humility, mercy, and simplicity. Last week I happened to be in China Town, near Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral and was delighted to pick up a copy of his Laudato Si’.

Pope Francis is a huge advocate for the environment. He chose to be called after St. Francis of Assisi, “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.” In Laudato Si’, Saint Francis is described as communing with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason,” and calling creatures great and small affectionately his brothers and sisters.1

Saint Francis teaches us to respect nature with a sense of awe and wonder, and without this attitude, Pope Francis admonishes that when we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in respect to our home (earth), our attitude will be that of master and exploiter.2

Being a student of landscape architecture and graduate from the School of Natural Resources, there is a lot to admire about the Patron Saint of Ecology. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis writes about his beloved saint, he reminds us that nature is like a book in which God illustrates his beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5). We learn that Saint Francis managed part of his garden in such a way to allow herbs and wildflowers to spring up and grow, “so those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty.”3 Pope Francis later shares that the bishops of Japan bolster this idea profoundly with their observation, “To sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to love joyfully in God’s love and hope.”4 God has entrusted this home to us. Pope Francis argues that the idea that we our created in God’s image and granted dominion of the earth is an incorrect interpretation, and instead we are instructed to, “till and keep,” cultivate and protect our home.5 Furthermore God rejects our absolute ownership: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev 25:23).

Pope Francis emulates the saint’s modest ways of living and encourages us to rid ourselves of luxuries and today’s throwaway culture driven by unfettered capitalism. His directive for happiness entails getting rid of wealth and focusing our energies on repairing our common home and our relationship with others. A representative of the Orthodox Church said, “The pursuit of individual happiness has been made into an ideal in our time. Ecological sin is due to human greed, which blinds men and women to the point of ignoring and disregarding the basic truth that the happiness of the individual depends on its relationship with the rest of human beings.”

View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow, 1836
View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow, 1836. Thomas Cole.

Pope Francis directs us to an ancient wisdom that less is more. He says that being Christians we should be happy with little. A return to simplicity allows us to appreciate the small things, to be spiritually detached from what we possess and not be saddened by what we lack and always searching for what we do not have. He suggests, “Even living on little, they can live a lot, above all when they cultivate other pleasures and find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer.”6

A study by Diener and Fujita published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that the availability of material resources was nine times less important to happiness than the availability of “personal” resources such as friends and family; the takeaway being that stuff shouldn’t define success.

Pope Francis’s 10 Tips for a Happier Life

  1. Live and Let Live. In contrast to Sir McCartney’s Live and Let Die.
  2. Proceed Calmly in Life. In other words Keep Calm and Carry on business.
  3. Be Giving of Yourself to Others. Just not the Flu.
  4. Have Leisure and Set Aside Time to Play with Children.
  5. Sunday is for Family. Not football or television.
  6. Respect and Take Care of Nature.
  7. Show all Mankind Dignity.
  8. Stop Being Negative.
  9. Respect Other’s Beliefs.
  10. Find Peace, Work for Peace.

Many churches in the United States celebrated the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, on October 4th, and held a blessing of the animals in honor of the saint.

A Prayer in Union with Creation:

Father, we praise you with all your creatures.

They came forth from your all-powerful-hand;

They are yours, filled with your presence and your tender love.

Praise be to you!

Don’t give in and cry. Keep Calm and Pray. Be kind to all God’s creatures.

  1. Pope Francis CCLXVI. Praise Be to You. Laudato Si’. On Care for Our Common Home. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015. Page 15, Paragraph 11. Print.
  2. Pope Francis CCLXVI. Praise Be to You. Laudato Si’. On Care for Our Common Home. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015. Page 15, Paragraph 11. Print.
  3. Pope Francis CCLXVI. Praise Be to You. Laudato Si’. On Care for Our Common Home. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015. Page 16, Paragraph 12. Print.
  4. Pope Francis CCLXVI. Praise Be to You. Laudato Si’. On Care for Our Common Home. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015. Page 61-62, Paragraph 85. Print.
  5. Pope Francis CCLXVI. Praise Be to You. Laudato Si’. On Care for Our Common Home. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015. Page 50-51, Paragraph 67. Print.
  6. Pope Francis CCLXVI. Praise Be to You. Laudato Si’. On Care for Our Common Home. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015. Page 148-149-51, Paragraph 222-223. Print.
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