Every year, as the feast of St. Francis of Assisi draws near, many Franciscan churches—and indeed many other venues—invite the public to a variety of animal blessings.
A short time ago, I was asked by a woman named Chris, whom I had not previously met, to bless her 12-year-old-dog, Baby. Chris was on her way to the vet to have Baby put down because of serious respiratory problems. She had brought her weak, suffering dog to the front door of a Franciscan friary near St. Anthony Messenger Press, where I work, and where I had agreed to meet her in order to say a special prayer of blessing over the dog. Needless to say, Chris was in tears as I offered the following prayer:
“Loving God, our beloved pet and companion, Baby,
is on her final journey. We will miss Baby dearly.
We thank you for the gift that she has been to us.
Give us hope that, in your great kindness,
you may restore Baby in your heavenly Kingdom
according to your wisdom,
which goes beyond our human understanding.”
Moving on from here, we now take a look at the kind of animal-blessing ceremony with which most of us are familiar. Over the last 15 years, I have been asked by various churches to conduct animal blessings. At these gatherings, I have often had the following experience: At the beginning, the dogs and cats—and other pets—are often very agitated and afraid of each other. Before you know it, the whole gang of animals breaks into angry barking and hissing (especially from cats who are greatly threatened by the canine majority). But then, soon after the blessing gets started, the animals seem to settle down quickly. A wonderful peace and calm pervade the grassy area next to the church where these ceremonies typically take place.
“Blessed are you, Lord God,
Maker of all living creatures.
On the fifth and sixth days of creation,
you called forth fish in the sea,
birds in the air and animals on the land.
You inspired St. Francis to call all animals
his brothers and sisters.
We ask you to bless these animals gathered about us.
By the power of your love,
enable these creatures—our sisters and brothers—to
live according to you plan.
May we always praise you for your beauty in creation.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.”
St. Francis has often been linked with birds and other creatures. Many of us are well acquainted with the statue of St. Francis on the birdbath and with the illustration of birds flying around the saint’s head or standing on his shoulders. Such images inspire us to love the whole family of creation. We may also be familiar with St. Francis’ Canticle of Brother Sun, in which Francis praises God through “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon,” through “Brother Wind” and “Sister Water,” through “Brother Fire” and “Our Sister Mother Earth” and her “various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”
St. Francis loved the larks that flew so gracefully through the sky over Assisi, his hometown. Perhaps you have also heard stories of this brown-robed friar preaching to the birds, releasing Brother Rabbit from a trap or letting Sister Raven serve as his “alarm clock” to awaken him for early-morning prayer.
There are many of us human beings, moreover, who know what it’s like to have, as companions, a beloved dog, cat, rabbit, gerbil, parrot or canary. There are others who may not have a pet, but who enjoy walking through the woods or along the seacoast where there are all kinds of creatures of land, air and sea to admire and to contemplate.
“Loving Creator, bless all your creatures—human and non-human alike.
Instill in us a spirit like that of St. Francis
so that we, too, may show love, respect and care
to the whole family of creation. Amen.”
St. Anthony Messenger Press, home of Friar Jack’s E-spirations, is contributing materials to the Humane Society of the United States’s “St. Francis Day in a Box” program, which offers a variety of resources on protecting animals and caring for creation. Suited for home or parish use, the kit contains our own special-issue Catholic Update on “Why We Bless Pets,” which includes a sample pet blessing. The kit also features our audiobook, Francis: The Journey and the Dream, by Murray Bodo, O.F.M., which lovingly depicts how St. Francis came to be an advocate for all living things. Friar Jack’s second book on a Franciscan view of creation, I Will See You in Heaven is in the kit, too. You can find out more from the Humane Society here.
–John Feister, Periodicals Editor
Featured image: photostock