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.
Animal blessings can take different forms. In addition to the prayer cited above, here is a prayer often used by Franciscans and others who conduct animal blessings:
“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 and the Birds
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.”
Editor’s Note: St. Francis Day in a Box
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
Dear Friar Jim: I just wanted to thank you for your musings on Jesus and his friends at Bethany. My home is called Bethany, and I try to have a welcome for everyone who visits. I host our parish cell group and lead our parish bereavement ministry team from Bethany House. Bethany is the place where Jesus came to rest, unwind and be with friends. I try to carry this on in my own small way as a Secular Franciscan. I’ve just started receiving your musings. Thank you for reminding me just what Bethany is all about. Rosaleen McGuinness
Dear Friar Jim: I enjoyed the commentary on Martha, Mary and Lazarus. I had thought it was Mary Magdalene who anointed Christ’s feet. You state otherwise. Please let me know how you came to your findings. I enjoy understanding the various Marys in this time of Christ’s life. Sandra
Friar Jim: I have often found myself in dilemmas such as this and am so happy to have read your message about the situation and the more positive ways of handling the negative feelings that arise. Thank you so much, and may God bless all your works. Dorothy
A: Dear Roseleen: What a wonderful title for your home! I commend you for all the good that you do within it. I know Jesus is very much present in your ministries. Friar Jim
Dear Sandra: All through Christian history the “Marys” have been confused. No, Mary Magdalene is not the Mary who is sister to Martha and Lazarus. She is very special in her own right. She is the Mary from whom Jesus cast out seven demons and was with Jesus’ mother at the foot of the cross. She also went to visit the tomb, saw the risen Jesus and brought the news to the apostles. Friar Jim
Dear Dorothy: Your dilemma is one that we all experience from time to time. It stems from pride and of “poor me” kinds of feelings. Once we recognize what we are feeling, we can turn those feelings over to the Lord. Friar Jim