Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Take Your Pets to Church Day -- Feast of St. Francis : Sunday October 4th

The official "Feast Day" of St. Francis in the Catholic church is October 4th. This Sunday in many Catholic, Lutheran and Episcopal churches -- and some other congregations who enjoy and honor the tradition, animals are welcomed and will get a special blessing from the clergy.

I love the story of St. Francis. In the 1200's, after returning from the wars, he stood up to his rich parents and left the family wealth and comfort behind to live in poverty among the poor. He chose to live gently in the world. He spent time with people that no one cared about. He loved the earth and was enraptured by it. And he talked with the animals.

St. Francis is most well known for his love of animals and his deep love for the earth. His commitment was not just to meditate upon the wonders of the earth, but to engage himself in healing what he could. How one lived was more important to him than what one said. He is known for saying: "Preach the Gospel at all times. Where necessary, use words."

The most well-known film about St Francis takes its name from his "Canticle for the Creatures": Brother Sun, Sister Moon, directed by Franco Zefferelli.

St Francis "got it" about a lot of things, way back in the 13th century. He is perhaps best known for his prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


But I always think of him as the animal loving saint. My images of him are deeply sentimental ones -- a bird perches on his arm, as an adoring dog is at his feet. He speaks to a deer who understands him. But can that be possible?

Years ago I was at a Buddhist shrine in Hawaii. The grounds were lovely, and there was a wide koi pond. A small old man was standing near the pond, dressed in shabby clothes. He had a sweet quality, though, so when he started a conversation with me, I felt happy to be invited into it.

"I have a pet fish," he said. The pond was teeming with hundreds an hundreds of koi fish -- maybe thousands. "Oh?" I said humoring him, not wanting to offend him. He seemed harmless enough. "You don't believe me," he said matter-of-factly.

He stepped to the shore and whistled, and clapped his hands. I saw a ripple on the water bee-lining itself toward him from midway across the pond. "Watch," he said. he then walked along the water, calling to his fish. The fish followed him, leaping out of the water as he went. "See?" he asked. "I see!" I replied.

"Now watch," he said. He stood beneath a tree near me and softly hummed. Before long a bird flew over from another tree on the grounds and landed on his hand. He kept humming, and the bird stayed there -- content, gazing at him. Then he released the bird into the air with a gentle wave of his hand.

"May I ask who you are?" I asked. "No one in particular," he said, smiling.

And I knew that I was in the presence of someone saintly, someone who revered nature in a special and deeply loving way -- with a patient and understanding love -- someone who did not expect it to be anything but its own true self. And Nature responded, loving him in return. He was someone a lot like St. Francis.

I love the magic that can happen between a human and a chosen animal creature. The bond is like no other, as anyone who has lost a beloved pet can tell. What a fitting way to remember the life of St. Francis, a man who chose to do no more harm in the world, than with something s gentle as the pet-blessings that will be happening all over the world on Sunday.

And I treasure those houses of worship that bless pets and animals this coming Sunday. Good for them! To me, to have a pet blessed is to have an acknowledgment that they are an important part of the family of G-d. It is a tribute to their hearts and to their giving natures.

As I browsed the web I noticed that many churches, synagogues and even Buddhist temples hold pet blessings. Many are combining it with a collection for the local pet shelters of pet blankets or pet food. Some even have adoptable pets on site. Check your local papers for listings, or call a few of the larger churches in your area.

Or, just gaze into your pet's loving eyes and say a thankful prayer for their well-being.

This article on eHowis a fine resource on how to attend or hold your own pet blessing .

This is a a listing (partial) of Catholic churches around the country holding pet blessings this Sunday (or in some cases, Saturday)


Many of you may recall the BBC series Vicar of Dibly. Geraldine, the vicar, has decided to hold a Blessing of the Animals. The powerful head of the church council is opposed. Geraldine goes ahead, but fears it will be a failure. This is a 10 minute video of what happens on the fateful day of the Blessing.

Oh, and I will be taking Zoe, my rescue pooch (hard to tell who rescued whom sometimes) to be blessed on Sunday.


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