Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis. Among many other wonderful things, St. Francis was known for his love of animals and uncanny ability to connect with them. It is said that he treated animals with the utmost respect, love, and care. Legend has it that St. Francis even preached to the animals about God’s love and concern for them!
While I love animals in general, I never used to understand people’s slightly fanatical obsession of their pets. It seemed a bit weird to have so much attachment over a random animal that had been purchased and introduced to live in your home. Then my parents got a puppy- and I fell in love.
When our puppy was really little, her paws were still too big for her and she staggered around the house like an unsteady little polar bear. Even so, every morning she was there to greet me, boundless excitement on her hind legs and a tail that wouldn’t keep still.
All she wanted was to be picked up and cuddled. She loved to fall asleep on my lap and be tickled.
To me, my puppy is perfect. Not because she is physically perfect- her fur gets matted easily, she barks too much when she sees another dog and she sees obedience as optional. But these things are tiny in comparison to how I feel about her. She regularly delights me and I have been known to lie on the floor next to her and gaze into her eyes while she places her paw on my hand. When I look at her I don’t wish that she was a better or a smarter dog. What does that matter when she is perfect as she is? I don’t look at her and tell her I wish she was something else, like a bigger stronger dog, that would definitely be a more useful than her for security. I don’t wish that she was a mountain rescue dog who could be a hero in an emergency. I don’t laugh at her when she forgets her size and tries to take on the bigger dogs at the park. I don’t look at her fur and wish it was easier to manage. I just love her because she is her.
As for her, she seems pretty content with her lot. The way she trusts us implicitly is fascinating. Lying on her back in the sunshine, completely vulnerable with her tummy exposed, eyes closed, she looks for all the world at peace with everything. She delights in everything; boundless joy lighting up her whole being as she runs laps around the garden. She loves everything and everyone.
So where am I going with all this? It struck me that how I see our puppy is a tiny and inadequate and incomplete example of how God sees us. When God looks at me, He does not wish, as I sometimes wish, that I was taller, skinnier, prettier. He does not think I would be more useful as someone else, or doing something else. He doesn’t think I’d be better off more intelligent or funnier or more confident. He doesn’t laugh at me when I attempt things and fail at them. He doesn’t wish I was easier to deal with. He loves me. And it’s that simple.
I envy our puppy’s complete abandonment to trust in us. It reminds me of how we should trust God.
I know I won’t be the only one who has learnt amazing things from their pets, dogs, cats or otherwise. They are a gift to us in their trust, companionship, simplicity and love. They are also a gift to us in the parallels that they show between us and God. God knows our frailties, weaknesses and how we are only human but loves us all the same and strives to teach us and guide us in the right way. We know the limitations that animals have, but we have the honor of caring for them and being patient with them all the same.
With this in mind, it is a wonderful thing that some parishes offer a “Blessing of the Animals” service on and around the Feast Day of St Francis. It may seem surprising that animals can be blessed, but in the same way that we say “God bless you” when someone sneezes, when we say Grace before meals in order to bless our food, we can certainly bless something as significant as the beloved animals in our lives.
NPR (National Public Radio), attended the annual ‘Blessing of the Animals’ in Washington DC this weekend and posted the following video to their Facebook page . It received a great deal of attention with 8,000 likes and over 300,000 views. A wonderful response for a media outlet known to reach a more liberal audience!
They interviewed many of the families who had come along, sharing their stories of how much their animals meant to them. There was even a lizard who came along to be blessed!
While it’s wonderful to be able to attend a formal blessing service, not all parishes will offer this. Even so, any baptized person can bless their pet. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: “every baptized person is called to be a “blessing,” and to bless. Hence lay people may preside at certain blessings; the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons) (1669)
So blessing your pet at home is fine. Blessing “always include a prayer, often accompanied by a specific sign, such as the laying on of hands, the sign of the cross, or the sprinkling of holy water.” (1669) “Every blessing praises God and prays for his gifts”. (1671)
With that in mind, we’ve included a blessing for your pet that you can use. And on this feast day of St Francis, please feel free to share your favorite pet stories in the comments below. Has there ever been a time when you have learnt something from your pet, or experienced a beautiful moment through them? Let us know!
Additional resources for a Pet Blessing
If your parish does not offer a Blessing of the Pets ceremony, approach your Pastor with the idea! Because of the attention from secular media, it can be a great opportunity to outreach to your community. Here is a copy of the ceremony for a Pet Blessing.
For more information on St. Francis, Prayers, and the History of the Blessing of Animals visit this website: St. Francis Blessing of the Animals
A prayer for your pet:
“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.”
by Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M