“But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.”—Job 12:7-10
St. Francis of Assisi revered nature, describing the Earth as a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. He considered himself brother to the sun, moon, and stars.
In the spirit of St. Francis, nature beckons Catholic families outside this summer, perhaps as never before, following two seasons of isolation and fear rendered by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
SUMMERTIME IS THE RIGHT TIME
Providing we observe ongoing safety practices as advised by the Centers for Disease Control (such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing), Orange County families and individuals can venture outdoors to enjoy warm weather, fellowship, and fresh air. Summer is the perfect time to plan a family barbecue, a hike, to go for a bicycle ride, to camp, to participate in outdoor sports and recreation, and to enjoy day trips to local parks, mountains, lakes, botanical gardens, beaches, and trails.
Experiencing nature can even be a form of prayer itself, as St. Francis found, whether we commune with God on a strenuous hike or contemplate His love while sitting quietly on a beach at sunset.
“One of the challenges of prayer is being quiet inside,” observes Katie Dawson, the Diocese of Orange’s director of parish evangelization and faith formation. “Nature helps us to get quiet inside; prayer walking and hiking is an extension of that.
“Enjoying the beauty of God’s creation is an excellent practice that helps us recognize God in our lives, focusing us on the God who made it and us.”
COMMUNE WITH NATURE, CARE FOR THE EARTH
In his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si,” which addresses ecology, conservation, and the need for people to care for the Earth, Pope Francis – who adopted the name of St. Francis when he became pope – writes that the saint is the patron of “all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast.
“He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.”
A WEALTH OF SUMMERTIME POSSIBILITIES NEARBY
CatholicExchange.com lists several ideas for Catholic families to pursue during the summer, beginning with visiting a state park to camp, swim, canoe, or hike. Living in Southern California with convenient access to the mountains and beaches, we can enjoy fishing, water sports, and visits to nature centers.
Because California is still in the process of opening up after the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to call or visit the website of your destination prior to embarking on a trip.
When fully opened, nearby are botanical gardens, including Sherman Gardens in Corona del Mar, Descanso Gardens in La Canada-Flintridge, the Huntington Library and Gardens in Pasadena, the Fullerton Arboretum at Cal State Fullerton, and the Los Angeles Botanical Gardens.
Orange County is close to deserts, which offer day hikes and nighttime stargazing opportunities.
Picnics and barbecues can take place closer to home at local and regional parks, which also offer bird-watching. The Santa Ana Zoo and the Orange County Zoo offer hours of fun; if you want a daylong adventure both the Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Zoo are proximate.
GETTING OUTSIDE FOR PRAYER AND CONTEMPLATION
A long walk through the neighborhood listening to the birds and enjoying the trees and flowers is a simple way to commune with God. Time spent alone on the beach or in the mountains offers a retreat from noise and a chance to pray surrounded by His majesty.
St. Francis spent months praying in nature and the wilderness, living in hermitages, caves, and on mountainsides, praying and preaching to people and animals.
Family fun is reason enough to plan summertime outings, but summer also is the optimal time to pray, meditate, and contemplate God in nature.
For summer activity ideas, visit ocparks.com or daytrippen.com. These websites offer suggestions specifically for Catholic families: catholicexchange.com/10-summer-ideas-catholic-family; epicpew.com/10-catholic-things-family-summer/ and greencatholicburrow.com/summer-ideas-catholic-family.