On St. John Paul II's feast day, we remember those holy people who showed a great appreciation for nature
In the United States, we have an expression, “The Great Outdoors,” which generally refers to going on excursions in the wilderness. It often entails escaping the “trap” of the city and enjoying a stroll, hike or weekend away from the distractions of city life.
Or if you want a humorous account of this expression, watch The Great Outdoors, featuring Dan Aykroyd and John Candy.
The need to get outside has become increasingly relevant over the past few decades when more and more Americans are spending their time indoors, barely seeing the light of day. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans spend an average of 93% of their life indoors.
The downside is that, enclosed in our artificial environments, we are not reaping the natural benefits of experiencing the “Great Outdoors.” As I previously wrote in an article, “Studies have shown that spending extended periods of time surrounded by nature has both physical and spiritual benefits.” Not only has it been shown to lower depression and stress, it also improves our own behavior toward others. Another study found that “patients with the view of trees tolerated pain better, appeared to nurses to have fewer negative effects and spent less time in a hospital.” It has even been shown that “contact with nature positively impacts blood pressure, cholesterol [and] outlook on life.”
Many saints had a great love for the outdoors and took any opportunity to enjoy nature. Here are five such examples in hopes that it will inspire us to spend a little more time with God’s creation, appreciating the world he has created for us.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
Frassati loved the mountains. He once wrote to a friend, “With every passing day I fall madly in love with the mountains; their fascination attracts me.” Frassati loved to climb and ski with his friends, often seeking out the highest peaks. During his short lifetime, Frassati was a member of the “Italian Alpine Club and climbed the Gran Tournalin (3,379m/11,086ft), the Grivola in the Val d’Aosta (3,969m/13,022ft), Mon Viso (3,841m/12,602ft), the Ciamarella (3,676m/12,060ft), the Bessanese (3,532m/11,588ft)” and other smaller peaks.
He is probably most well known for a phrase he wrote on the back of a photograph of him climbing a mountain: Verso l’alto (“toward the top”). After his death it became a phrase associated with his constant desire for sanctity and reaching for the goal of eternal life.
Saint John Paul II
In 1954, Father Karol Wojtyła was awarded a “Bronze Badge for Hiking Tourism” by a local organization in Poland. Wojtyla won this badge for hiking on foot on multiple occasions during that year, totaling 166 km (103 miles). More than half of these excursions were completed during the winter (November 1 – March 31).
Throughout the remainder of his life, John Paul II would go hiking, skiing and kayaking with groups of friends as a priest, bishop, cardinal and pope. He even sneaked out of the Vatican to ski and did so at least 100 times!
Needless to say, John Paul II loved the outdoors.
Appointed Bishop of Liège in 708, Hubert is more widely known for his conversion story and a legend regarding a vision he saw while hunting a deer. During his youth, Hubert spent his days hunting, even skipping out on Church services.
On Good Friday one year, while the faithful were attending services, Hubert pursued a magnificent stag. After drawing close to it, the animal turned and, as the legend narrates, he saw a crucifix between its antlers, and heard a voice saying: “Hubert, unless you turn to the Lord, and lead a holy life, you shall quickly go down into hell.” Hubert then prostrated himself and said, “Lord, what would Thou have me do?” God said in return, “Go and seek Lambert, and he will instruct you.”
Hubert sought out Saint Lambert, who instructed him and set him on the pathway to sanctity. Saint Hubert is regarded as the patron saint of hunters and is also known for promoting ethical hunting practices, treating animals as part of God’s creation.
Saint Bernard of Menthon
After being ordained a priest, Bernard preached to the people who lived in the Alps and founded three hostels run by the Canons Regular of the Hospitaller Congregation of Great Saint Bernard that extended hospitality to travelers crossing over the mountains. The canons of the hostels would also search for people trapped during heavy snowstorms.
Over time the canons bred dogs to help in their search and rescue operations. They were bred to traverse deep snow and sniff out lost people. This breed of dogs was eventually named the St. Bernard in honor of the founder of the hostel and religious organization. Saint Bernard is the patron saint of mountaineers, skiers, backpacking and the Alps.
Saint Francis of Assisi
Whenever thinking of a saint who loved the outdoors, Saint Francis of Assisi immediately comes to mind. He is often known for preaching to the birds, taming a wolf, and composing a hymn to creation.
His love for creation inspired Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, where the pope held up Saint Francis as an example for all in the care of creation.
“His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, ‘from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of brother or sister.’”