Contributed by the Executive Director, The Rev. Tara K. Soughers, PhD
In early fall, you may see announcements in Christian Churches for a service called, “Blessing of the Animals.” It can be done within the normal Sunday morning service or at some time, but it is generally in close proximity to October 4.
Many branches of the Christian Church have special days to remember exemplary practitioners of the faith, who are often called saints. The word saint comes from the word which means holy or dedicated to God. While different traditions have different criteria for naming someone a saint and recognize different people, most will have at least some people who they hold up as examples of how to live a Christian life. Many of these saints are also associated with particular geographical locations or ethnic groups. Most people are familiar with Irish St. Patrick’s day celebrations or Italian St. Joseph’s Day celebrations. On these days, there may be special food or activities that call to mind the story of the saint.
Francis of Assisi was born in Italy in 1182 to a rich garment merchant. He lived a carefree life of luxury until he was badly wounded in a battle. The long convalescence changed him, and afterwards, he rejected the rich life he had been living to live a life in poverty. Others began to follow him, and eventually he founded the Franciscans, and with Clare, the poor Clares.
As with many saints, the provable and factual stories are the most important, but it is the tales that grow up around the saint that are the most interesting. It is true that Francis believed that we are brothers and sisters with all creation, as attested to in his poem “Canticle of the Sun.” What is less sure are the stories of his remarkable kinship with animals, such as asking birds to cease their nightly chatter until he had finished preaching or making peace between a wolf and a village. These stories, however, have captured people’s imaginations for centuries, and many depictions of Francis show him with either a bird or a wolf. Because of this St. Francis is a much beloved saint, and statues of him will adorn many gardens
So in honor of St. Francis, some churches acknowledge that we are brothers and sisters with all creatures by honoring those animals that share our lives. You don’t have to be a Christian to join in the celebration of the ways that animals, particularly our pets, demonstrate something about the love of God for all creation, who is praised through all creatures.