St. Francis, President Kimball, and Birds

When I was on my Mormon mission in France, I developed a deep affection for St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), one of the most venerated of all Catholic saints.  In fact, I purchased a biography of the saint and read it carefully from cover to cover.  I felt a deep affinity for the man.

After I was married and before enlisting in the U.S. Coast Guard, I returned to Europe.  High on my list of things to do was a pilgrimage to Assisi, in central Italy.  I visited the cathedral there and greatly enjoyed  the frescoes by Giotto (attributed) illustrating scenes from the life of St. Francis.  Particularly, the one of the St. Francis preaching to the birds.

St. Francis Preaching to the Birds (attributed to Giotto)

According to Catholic Encyclopedia (, accessed 15 Oct 2011):

The very animals found in Francis a tender friend and protector . . . . the early legends have left us many an idyllic picture of how beasts and birds alike, susceptible to the charm of Francis’s gentle ways, entered into into loving companionship with him. . . how “little brethren the birds” listened so devoutly to his sermon by the roadside near Bevagna that Francis chided himself for not having thought of preaching to them before.

Similar thoughts about birds were spoken by President Spencer W. Kimball, a LDS general authority:

It is not only wicked to destroy them (birds), it is a shame, in my opinion. I think that this principle should extend not only to the bird life but to the life of all animals” (President Spencer W. Kimball, Fundamental Principles to Ponder and Live, Ensign (CR), November 1978, p.43).

One of the songs that President Kimball loved was “Don’t Kill the Little Birds” (since deleted) and he sang it with a loud voice:

Don’t kill the little birds,/That sing on bush and tree,/All thro’ the summer days,/Their sweetest melody./Don’t shoot the little birds!/The earth is God’s estate,/And he provideth food/For small as well as great. (Deseret Songs, 1909, no. 163)

President Kimball had a slingshot which he had made himself.  It was his responsibility to walk the cows to pasture.  There were large cottonwood trees lining the road and and he remembered it was quite a temptation to shoot the little birds.  But because he frequently sang “Don’t Kill the Little Birds,” he was restrained.

Don’t kill the little birds/Their plumage wings the air,/Thier trill at early morn/Makes music ev’ry-where./What tho’ the cherries fall/Half eaten from the stem?/And berries disappear,/In garden, field, and glen?

This song left a real impression on President Kimball.  He “could see no great fun in having a beautiful little bird fall at his feet.”

Both St. Francis and President Kimball found in all created things a spark of the Creator.

This entry was posted in Art, birds, catholicism, Environment, Religion, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

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