St. Francis statues are a common sight in the wooded yards at St. Francis Village. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)
Fall is a great time to enjoy nature, and there are many saints and people who have lived holy lives whose devotion to the outdoors can inspire us to venture into God’s creation. St. Francis of Assisi, St. Pope John Paul II, and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati were all known for the spiritual strength they drew from time spent hiking in the mountains, and they follow in a long tradition that dates back to the Old Testament, when prophets would go into the wilderness to pray to God.
St. Francis of Assisi is one of the first figures who comes to mind when considering the relationship between spirituality and a love of nature. He spent much of his time praying outdoors, walking in the wilderness, hiking up mountains, sleeping in caves, and living in hermitages. He grew so close to nature that he came to realize a kinship with all living things.
The Christophers have a News Note entitled "God’s Good Earth" in which St. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “We need to find God and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence…. We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Many holy people have drawn closer to God through time spent in nature. St. Pope John Paul II was known for making spiritual retreats into the mountains as a young man, and he continued that practice even as pope. In his book, Pope Wojtyla and the General, General Enrico Marinelli, who provided security for 15 years for John Paul II’s travels in Italy, writes, “When the Holy Father told his entourage that he wanted to spend a few hours, sometimes a few days, outside the Vatican, he always surprised those who naturally thought of Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence: for John Paul II, ‘outside the Vatican’ meant going to a wild, remote and isolated place.”
Marinelli recalls that on Tuesdays the Pope would have a free day when he would often venture into the mountains of Italy in the same way he had done in Poland as a younger man. Of these excursions, Marinelli writes, “Pope John Paul II used to say that every climb that involves difficulties and fatigue is rewarded by the possibility of touching and experiencing God.”
Mountain climbing was also a favorite activity of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who died in 1925 at the age of 24 from an illness he contracted while tending to the sick. He influenced many Catholics who followed in his footsteps through his dedication to those in need and robust defense of the faith. Frassati was also known for organizing outings into the mountains that served as opportunities to share his faith with his friends, who he would lead to Mass as well as pray the rosary and read Scripture with.
There are many ways in which we can commune with God in nature. For those who can climb mountains, hiking is certainly an excellent activity. But finding a simple place to walk in nature is a great way to immerse ourselves in the beauty of God’s creation. And while these can be solitary and prayerful activities, let’s also remember to spend time sharing these experiences with others, so we can demonstrate how the beauty of the natural world reflects the glory of God.
This column from the Christophers has been slightly modified to best capture Texas's volatile seasons.
Fall, devotion to the outdoors, God’s creation, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Pope John Paul II, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, spiritual strength, hiking, traditions, Old Testament, praying to God in the wilderness, trending-english