Christian: Come one, come all, for St. Francis pet blessings

Give Fido an extra kiss on the Feast of St. Francis! In ‘The Canticle of Creatures,’ St. Francis referred to animals as the siblings of mankind. Photo by Tony Alter courtesy of flickrDid you know? St. Francis of Assisi not only founded the Franciscan Order and the Order of St. Clare, but he also created the first Nativity scene—and received the first recorded stigmata!

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 4: Got a pet? Take him to a service today! Check around your region for churches celebrating this tradition; a growing number of congregations nationwide are holding pet blessings in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. What used to be a parade of rural farm animals down country lanes has morphed into preachers raising a hand over dogs, cats and hamsters; some pastors are even traveling to dog parks! American Catholic is back this year with a fresh searchable database of blessings that parishes have listed on the site. But watch out! Some blessings occur early—and others are delayed until later in the calendar.

Christians might not agree on the fate of pets—some believe we’ll see our furry friends in heaven, while others don’t—but all can appreciate the joy that animals bring to our lives. (A Franciscan Friar reflects on this age-old question at American Catholic.) St. Francis of Assisi went so far as to call animals his “brothers and sisters,” insisting that they are an integral part of God’s creation.

St. Francis: From Wealth to Intentional Poverty

As with many famous saints, St. Francis’ life began in wealth. (Find a full biography at the EWTN Global Catholic Network.) Born to a cloth merchant in Assisi in 1181, Francis lived in luxury until war called him away from home, in 1204. It was immediately following the war that Francis received a vision; he soon lost his desire for a worldly life and returned to Assisi as a peasant. (Wikipedia has details.) Francis’ father disowned him for his choice to follow Christ, and the saint-to-be began both begging and preaching on the streets. Soon after, Francis created an order that would, in 10 years, number more than 5,000. St. Francis was canonized less than two years after his death.

St. Francis Led the Way—Even Methodists Followed

St. Francis wasn’t the first to raise the question of animals in heaven—and he wasn’t the first to affirm his belief, either! (It’s a common theme in Psalms that all creatures of God, whether man or beast, have a duty to praise Him.) Nor was St. Francis the last to preach this message: although some evangelical Christians argue that our pets are barred from heaven, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was famous as an early advocate for humane treatment of animals. Wesley famously preached that we will see our pets in heaven. To this day, many Protestant and Anglican congregations offer St. Francis-themed blessings of animals.

St. Francis challenged everyone to protect nature: We are, after all, God’s stewards on earth. Legends about St. Francis paint a portrait of a man whose donkey wept upon his death; who blessed a wolf and commanded him to stop harming townspeople and their flocks; and who garnered rapt attention from birds when he told his companions that he would “preach to” his “sisters the birds.” It’s said that during his sermon, not one bird flew away.

Of course, religous leaders were hardly the only inspirational environmentalists. This week, ReadTheSpirit also has a story about a new book of Henry David Thoreau’s greatest quotations, especially designed for inspirational reading while hitting the woods for a hike.

St. Francis-Related Ideas for Your Congregation

The Humane Society of the United States devotes a lot of ongoing effort to collecting and sharing religious resources related to animals. For this time of year, the Humane Society offers “St. Francis Day in a Box,” a collection of helpful resources you can purchase for a modest fee. The box contains printed and video resources you can use in your congregation or small group. Or, you may want to look around the Faith Outreach portal at the Humane Society for more ideas.

St. Francis-Related Ideas for You and Your Family

Whether you’re honoring St. Francis or your own pet today, there are plenty of activities to choose from! Those wishing to remember the saint can pray the Canticle of the Sun; learn more about the fantastic festival in Assisi today; or cook up an Italian feast. (Catholic Culture has additional ideas.) Aside from taking your pet for a walk or to a pet-blessing service, animal lovers can raise money for a local animal shelter; make Fido an herbal flea collar; or even take a lesson in pet communication. (TLC has more.)

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