At the Church of the Epiphany in New York City, the Sunday we observed St. Francis Day was one of the biggest attendance days of the year. I could never quite understand why hordes of people who would never set foot in a church to receive a blessing themselves would come every year to get a blessing for their dog.
But my understanding is not necessary for the work of the Holy Spirit, and so long as those dogs were bringing their humans into church: what an opportunity! Time to share stories about the life of St. Francis: radical poverty; stories of his life as prisoner of war; consideration of his meeting with the Sultan and interactions with Islam; contemplation of the stigmata, and what it would mean to bear the marks of Christ.
And, yes, the animals.
I don’t know that we can grasp how radical Francis’ reputed embrace of the natural world was for those around him. We are conditioned by generations of American adulation of the wilderness, and traditions that include seeking God in nature. But 800 years ago, the natural world was not a place to look for God. Nature was to be fought and suppressed–not enjoyed.
Yet, according to the stories of his life, Francis witnessed all creation, from the earth to the sun to the animals, as praising God. He preached to the birds, saved a wolf, and called creatures his sisters and brothers.
For us today, following in St. Francis’ footsteps, it might be good to ask ourselves where the places are that we believe are godless or beyond the boundaries of our comfort, that we might similarly encounter the radical divine presence there. God is not confined by our imagination or civilization.
And it is good to take comfort in our animal companions, to recognize the blessing they are in our lives, and to take in the lessons of compassion, presence, and interdependence they teach us.
Our cats, Mitties and Eclipse, wish your animals a blessed St. Francis Day.