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The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

Blessing of the Animals

October 4, 2009

If you are a pet owner you know the benefits of having a pet. Mine would be a lonely place to come home to if it were not for my two wonderful dogs, Gemma and Meaghie. They greet me at the door when I come home from work. We walk together. Their companionship is a part of my life. Seniors’ residences acknowledge the benefits of having pets. We have certainly observed that in the residences that we visit. One in particular had a wonderful dog that wandered the halls making friends with residents and visitors. He made people feel at home.

There are also spiritual benefits to consider. Pets teach us so much about love given and received. They love unconditionally. They respond to our moods. So it is little wonder that St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most beloved of saints, for he is known as the patron saint of animals. We bless our pets in remembrance of his love for all creatures.

His connection to animals comes from the many stories that centre on St. Francis and his love of nature. He once allowed himself to be ousted from his small hovel by a donkey in need of shelter. He tamed a wolf that was attacking the townspeople in a small village. One of the most famous stories is about his relationship to the birds.

One day he was walking through the Spoleto Valley with some of the brothers. He spotted a number of birds of all varieties. He left his friends on the road and ran out into the field among the birds. He greeted them, expecting that they would fly off. Instead they drew close, even letting him touch them. Echoing the words of Matthew, he told them to continue to praise the creator who gave them feathers for clothes, wings to fly and everything that they needed to sustain them in life. He walked amongst the birds and gave them a blessing, making the sign of the cross over them.

In reflection to his friends later on he wondered why he had never preached to birds before. After that he made it a habit to seek out animals of all kinds. He would invoke them to praise their creator God. Animals understood and responded to his preaching.

There was a rabbit that had been caught in a trap that was brought to St. Francis. He advised it to be more careful in the future and then released the little animal. It hopped right back onto his lap. He took it into the woods and set it down, only to have it follow him back. Finally one of the brothers had to take it deep into the woods and let it go.

Even fish were known to obey Francis. If a fish were caught in his presence, Francis would return the fish to water, warning it not to be caught again. The fish would often linger near the boat listening to Francis preach. When he gave them permission to leave they would swim off.

Unbelievable stories? I don't think so! But then, my Great Uncle George once asked the camels to come out of their hut at the zoo in High Park so that he could speak to them. They came right over to him at the fence, and seemed intent on what he was saying to them. I also have my little dogs who have taught me so much about love and about relationships. And you each have a story about your pet, about its unique qualities, about how well it understands what you say to it, your feelings and moods. The cover of Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul says that pets are "teachers, healers, heroes and friends". I suspect that it is because of those wonderful traits that you are here today. This celebration is about blessing our pets. It is also about how we have been blessed by having a pet to care for. And so today we bring them to God, our creator, who cares for every living thing. And we ask God to bless us too.
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