St. Francis of Assisi was a thirteenth century friar who left a legacy of love and compassion for all living creatures. Churches and schools are named for him and statues of him adorn public places and private gardens. He would be pleased to know that eight centuries later he is the inspiration for the annual blessing of the animals.
I have always felt that my life was improved by having a pet. Whether dog or cat, or even horse or bird or fish, the companionship of one of God’s creatures is a blessing that I enjoy. And I know I’m not alone. Lots of folks feel blessed by their pets. This weekend pet owners may have the opportunity to return the favor. In fact, you may be surprised to see people taking their pets to church.
October 4th is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. He is known as the patron saint of animals and birds. In recent years, he has become the patron saint of the environment, as well. Statues of St. Francis of Assisi are often found in gardens, especially where there are birds.
In honor of St. Francis’s love for animals, many churches invite pet owners to bring their best friends to a ceremony called the “Blessing of the Animals”, usually held during the first week of October. You might think that an occasion honoring a canonized saint would be unique to a specific faith, but in fact many non-denominational services and even secular events are being held.
Most of these services or events are really a celebration of the bond that develops between people and their pets – all kinds of pets. Folks bring dogs and cats, sure, but also bunnies, birds, hamsters, goats, snakes. Sometimes an owner will show up with a sick animal, hoping for a miracle. They all have one thing in common – their love for their animal friends.
So why is it that we relate so well to our pets? I think maybe it’s because communication between humans and animals is not about words and ideas but about senses and feelings. For that reason, we let pets past those defenses we set up for people, and allow them to get right next to our hearts. Who would not be blessed by that?
You might check to see if anyone in your community will be blessing the animals this weekend. If not, it’s still a great time to give thanks for the creatures that share our lives. Maybe you can find time for an extra walk around the block, or an extended play time with your best friend, just to celebrate the relationship that blesses both human and animal, when you’re speaking of pets.