How Saints Look at Trees
Today is the feast of St. Alfonso Ligouri, an Italian bishop, author, composer, musician, artist, poet, lawyer, scholastic philosopher, and theologian. He founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, known as the Redemptorists. Among his remarkable body of work are these words praising natural beauty.
As Almighty God knew that man is won by kindness, he determined to lavish his gifts upon him, and so take captive the affections of his heart. For this reason he said, I will draw them with the cords of Adam, with the bands of love. I will catch men by those very snares by which they are naturally caught, that is, by the snares of love.
And such exactly are all the favors of God to man. After having given him a soul created in his own image, with memory, understanding, and will, and a body with its senses, he created heaven and earth for him — yes, all that exists, all for the love of man — the firmament, the stars, the planets, the seas, the rivers, the fountains, the hills, the plains, meadows, fruits, and a countless variety of animals: and all these creatures that they might minister to the uses of man, and that man might love him in gratitude for so many admirable gifts.
“Heaven and earth, and all things, tell me to love Thee,” says St. Augustine. “My Lord,” he said, “whatever I behold on the earth, or above the earth, all speak to me, and exhort me to love Thee; because all assure me that Thou hast made them for the love of me.”
The Abbot de Ranee, founder of La Trappe, when from his hermitage he stood and surveyed the hills, the fountains, the birds, the flowers, the planets, and the skies, felt himself animated by each one of these creatures to love that God who had created all through love to him.
In like manner St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, when she held any beautiful flower in her hand, was enkindled by the sight of it with love to God; and she would say: “And God, then, has thought from all eternity of creating this flower for love of me!”
Thus did that flower become, as it were, a dart of love, which sweetly wounded her, and united her more and more to her God.
On the other hand, St. Teresa, at the sight of trees, fountains, rivers, lakes, or meadows, declared that all these fair things upbraided her for her ingratitude in loving so coldly a God who created them that he might be loved by her.
To the like purpose is it related of a pious hermit, that when walking through the country, it seemed to him that the plants and flowers in his path reproached him for the cold return of love he made to God; so that he went along gently striking them with his staff, and saying to them: “Oh, be silent, be silent; you call me an ungrateful wretch; you tell me God has made you for love of me, and yet I do not love him; but now I understand you, be silent, be silent; do not reproach me more.”
But God was not satisfied with giving us so many beautiful creatures. He has gone to such lengths to gain our love, as to give himself to us. The Eternal Father did not hesitate to give us even his only-begotten Son: “For God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten son.”
Pictured: The academic quad at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.