A few weeks ago a Facebook friend posted from his tree stand while hunting deer. He noted the beauty of the location, and how he passed the time observing nature, taking time to read the readings for the day, and saying a full rosary. When he commented he would need help from St Francis to get a deer, another friend corrected that the patron saint of hunters was not St. Francis, but instead St. Hubert.
His friend is right. St. Hubert is the patron of hunters. While I am not a hunter and the only deer I ever killed was with my car (the deer also killed the car), I recognize the role hunting has in wildlife management. I also know how important it is to many people; rooted in their own family’s rituals and tradition. I look at life through a spiritual lens. The value of any particular activity is weighted in a dynamic relationship between what I think and want and what God calls me to be. In our modern age it is unlikely that we must hunt in order to be fed. That said, every hunter I know processes and eats what they hunted. So, how does hunting intersect with living as a person of faith?
A Priest with a Bow
When you have a question about living a life of faith, a safe place to start is with a trusted priest. It has been my great privilege over the years to come to know many fantastic priests. Among them is Fr. Ken Wasilewski who is a bow hunter. In the past he has shared, with my large family, venison from one of his hunts. Fr. Ken is the Director of the Permanent Diaconate and Diocesan Ethicist for the Diocese of Rockford, IL and has been a hunter from a young age. I reached out to him for his perspective on hunting, faith and St. Hubert the Patron Saint of Hunting. (More on St. Hubert later).
For Father Ken, hunting has always been a family affair. His grandfather hunted during the depression to provide food for his family. He passed those skills on to his son, Fr. Ken’s dad, who in turn taught all of the members of the family; children and grandchildren. In his family, hunting is a activity for the entire family spanning three generations, from his 78 year old father to his younger nieces and nephews. A big part of the experience is being out in, and enjoying the beauty of, creation. In his teens, the family transitioned to bow hunting, largely because the season was longer. Very active in the sport, Fr. Ken’s brother eventually designed hunting bows that are now seen in almost every bow hunting department or program.
When asked about the spirituality of hunting, Fr. Ken recounts that in his teens he thought the Catholic Faith was the coolest. It had both a saint for the care of animals, St. Francis, and a saint related to the hunting of animals, St. Hubert. Fr. Ken sees it as all connected. In his own words he continued:
“There is both the role of being a caretaker of the natural resource and the role of being an active participant in nature. Part of it is just someone who wants to be out there, who wants to be connected with the beauty of creation who wants to feel that connection and be a participant in it, not just an observer, but a participant. I think in so many ways that’s what hunting really does for me. It allows me to enter into the natural world that God created, not just as an observer but as a participant.”
“At the same time it changed, at least for me, my whole perspective. Not just of nature, not just of spirituality but even my perspective on eating, on food in general. It’s a whole different thing when you’re eating something that you’ve harvested. Whether it’s vegetables that you grew in your garden, whether it’s fish that you caught, whether it’s an animal that you killed. When you’re the one who’s the mediator between life and death, in a sense, it changes your perspective completely. It gives you, in my opinion, a far deeper appreciation for not only for the benefit, for the beauty of that animal, but also just the reality of survival. The reality of life.”
“I think in so many ways, for myself, the spiritual component when it comes to hunting is; that it’s really the resurrection. It’s really that new life comes from death. It’s really the way that God, I think, set up nature in so many ways. Every time that something dies there’s the opportunity for new life to come from it. I think that one of the more spiritual ways that I look at hunting, is the idea that when I take that animal’s life it will support life. There will be life that will come from that death. It is kind of what we say about the resurrection in general, that our spiritual life, that our eternal life is made possible because of a death. In terms of the spiritual end that’s how I’ve often seen hunting and thought of it.”
“When it comes to St. Hubert, it just shows the catholicity (universality) of the Church. Here are people involved in this pastime and, through it, they have this profound encounter with God. They can be in touch with God. Even if someone never, ever, hunts or doesn’t like it or want to be a part of it, or doesn’t see it, it’s still an avenue, a pathway where other people can find God. Hubert is a testimony to that. It was his experiences out there that ultimately helped him to find God. The story of Hubert was a conversion experience that came through hunting.”
“I visited his church in the town of St. Hubert in Belgium. There you have really strong hunting culture. The fact that there’s a Saint in the midst of that culture shows that blending, that possibility, of having both a deep spirituality and this pastime.”
Story of St. Hubert in Brief
Born in 656, the eldest son of a duke, Hubert was raised as a nobleman. A Catholic, Hubert had more interest in practicing the arts of war: horseback riding and archery, than practicing his faith. Hunting, the activity that combined the use of those skills, was his passion. His mother’s prayers that he would turn from fascination with things of the world to things of heaven were answered when Hubert married. His wife was a devout woman who rekindled in Hubert the faith he learned as a child.
The resurgence of faith was short lived. When she died, shortly after the birth of their first son, Hubert was crushed with grief and anger. He abandoned his faith and returned to the hunt. Riding out to hunt on Good Friday, Hubert rebuffed a priest’s invitation to join in holy day observances. In the forest, Hubert encountered a majestic stag, with large antlers, that looked directly at him but did not flee. As he notched his arrow and prepared to fire, Hubert saw that between the antlers was a crucifix, radiant with light. He then heard a voice telling him to turn his life over to God.
He did, turning from a hunter of animals into a hunter of souls. Hubert was later ordained a priest and eventually appointed as a bishop. He was known for his dynamic preaching, and often used his skills with a bow and arrow to draw crowds to come listen to the Word of God. His sermons changed many hearts.
Learn more about St Hubert Patron Saint of Hunters
Follow the link above to:
- Read a more detailed account of the life of St Hubert
- See various depictions of St. Hubert
- Find several prayers for Hunters
- Fr. Ken, from personal collection
- St Hubert Statue on the grounds of Hotel Noma Residence Zameczek Myśliwski Promnice
- St Hubert Statue, Nazareth House, Henry IL