Many of you have asked for a copy of my reflections that I gave last Saturday, October 4th, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi at our parish celebration of “The Blessing of Animals.”
Thanks to all who came to have their pets blessed in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. By all accounts it was a great success! We will certainly make it an annual parish event. It’s so good to see that St. Francis remains one of the most popular and beloved Catholic Saints.
As Autumn arrives, people in various parishes may notice something odd. A procession of animals, everything from dogs and cats to hamsters and even horses, are led to Catholic Churches for a special ceremony known as the Blessing of Pets. This custom is conducted early in October in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi’s love for all creatures.
St. Francis, whose feast day is celebrated on October 4th, loved the larks flying about his hilltop town. He and his early friars staying in a small hovel, allowed themselves to be displaced by a donkey. St. Francis wrote a “Canticle of the Creatures”, an ode to God’s living things: “All praise to you, O Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.”
There was testimony in the cause for ST. Clare of Assisi’s canonization that referred to her little cat! That there are today over 62 million cats in the United States attests to the continuing affection we have for our furry, feathered, or finned friends. We’ve even had a cat called Socks in the White House. Other popular residential pets range from Abraham Lincoln’s Fido to Lyndon Johnson’s beagles, named Him and Her.
For single householders, a pet can be a true companion. Many of you arrive home from work to find a furry friend overjoyed at your return. Many a senior has a lap filled with a purring fellow creature. The bond between person and pet is like no other relationship, because the communication between fellow creatures is at its most basic. Eye to eye, a man and his dog, or a woman and her cat, are two creatures of love. No wonder so many people enjoy the opportunity to take their animal companions to the church grounds for a special blessing!
Church is the place where the bond of creation is celebrated daily. At many Catholic Churches, a priest welcomes each animal and then offers a special prayer. At the end of the prayer, the pet is gently sprinkled with holy water. Believe it or not, most pets receive this sacramental sprinkling with dignity. The blessed animals amazingly remain calm and at peace; though I must admit I have seen some cats flatten their ears as the drops of holy water pelt them. But the owner is happy, and who knows what spiritual benefits may result?
Usually the “Blessing of the Pets’ is held outdoors at a special parish garden dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. Here at St. John’s we are ever grateful to Michael Keleher, our parish sexton, for this lovely statue and garden dedicated to St. Francis. I personally enjoy seeing it from my office window in any season.
Some people criticize the amount and cost of care given to pets. People are more important they say. Care for poor people instead of for poodles. Certainly our needy fellow human beings should not be neglected. Like Jesus, dear St. Francis welcomed the poor. However, I believe every creature of God is important. The love we give to a pet, and receive from a pet, can draw us more deeply into the larger circle of life, into the wonder of our common relationship to God our Creator. St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!
Pleasant Autumn Sunday to all!
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