"If we have men who would exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."  St. Francis of Assisi

Blessing of the Animals

Saturday, October 1, 2016 at 10:00am

Please bring your pet to be blessed by Deacon Ron Gagne




by Marcellino D’Ambrosio

You often see a garden statue of him with a bird on his shoulder. Yes, St. Francis of Assisi did have a special relationship with animals. He is said to have preached to the birds, pacified a wolf, and put together an animal cast for what is regarded as the very first live nativity scene. St. Francis was in love with creation and that’s because he was in love with the Creator, whom he regarded not as some cosmic force or as a distant, detached monarch but as Father. He so much loved God his Father that he had great affection for anything related to God: the sacraments, the Church, its very imperfect ministers, broken-down country chapels, and all of God’s marvelous works of art. This included human beings first and foremost but also the animals and even objects that adorn the heavens and the earth. But did he have a concept of “the environment,” as we know it today? The fondness for and kinship St. Francis felt with “brother sun and sister moon” was truly a gift. It is a gift that we all receive when we receive the Holy Spirit. At least this is how St. Thomas Aquinas and many after him explained this beautiful, supernatural gift of piety. The natural virtue of piety was extolled by the Greeks and Romans as a love of those who gave us life, first and foremost our parents and after them, the fatherland. This entailed also a respect and affection for all that is connected with our parents and dear to them as well: our grandparents, uncles and aunts, and in the case of our country, its flag, its national anthem, its history, and its heroes. The term for piety towards one’s country is “patriotism,” which actually has at its root the term “pater” or “father.”

St. Francis loved his hometown of Assisi, but his deeper patriotism was for the Kingdom of God. His affection for the kingdom included respect and reverence for all the King’s creatures and subjects, great or small. St. Francis understood that woman and man are God’s supreme masterpieces, made in his image and likeness, unlike the animals. Human beings are given dominion over the rest of creation in Genesis. This dominion does not mean humans can exploit what is given to them but can cultivate, care for, and perfect what they are given. God entrusts Adam and Eve not with “the environment” but with “the garden”—a place of beauty in which we are made to walk with God. St. Francis loves the birds but also presses them into the service of the Gospel as he does with other creatures. In a now popular tale about a wolf terrorizing the Italian town of Gubbio, St. Francis is said to have saved the wolf from the wrath of angry townsfolk. The wolf began attacking livestock and then people. In “The Little Flowers of St. Francis” by Br. Ugolino, Francis is said to have rebuked the wolf for its ferocity but also brokered peace between the wolf and the armed townsfolk. “As thou art willing to make this peace, I promise thee that thou shalt be fed every day by the inhabitants of this land so long as thou shalt live among them; thou shalt no longer suffer hunger, as it is hunger which has made thee do so much evil.” He is said not only to have tamed the wolf but also provided for the animal to live in harmony in town until it died of old age. A biblical and Catholic approach to the environment is not to see it coldly and scientifically as “the environment” but rather, in the fashion of St. Francis, to approach it as the expression of the Father’s beauty, as the gift of the Father’s love, as an icon, a window to the new creation. Reckless exploitation would never fit with such a vision.

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