Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Grace from within: A blessing for our domestic animals

Statue of Saint Francis of Assisi
inside San Francisco's Grace Cathedral.
The Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi was celebrated by many Episcopal (Anglican) and Catholic churches across the United States today. Some, like my church of worship, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, commemorated Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of San Francisco, servant to the poor and lover of all creation, with its annual blessing of domestic animals on Sunday as a token of the love Saint Francis showed for all created beings, including animals, as expressed in his Canticle of Creatures.

There is a tradition of blessing animals that dates back to the fourth century, when Saint Anthony of the Desert brought animals into the church for blessing. Now, many churches celebrate it on October 4, the feast day of Saint Francis, whom Pope John Paul II named the patron saint of ecology in 1979.

The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm Clemens Young, who led the procession at Grace Cathedral on Sunday, said: "Francis loved the Earth so much and nature, so I'm hoping that people see the beauty. We live in the most beautiful city in the world, and part of that is the beauty of the redwood trees, the bay and the estuaries."

It's a very lovely and heartfelt experience seeing dogs, cats and other domestic pet animals such as fish and birds on their best behavior, sitting in the pews besides their caretakers, sensing the solemnity of the occasion. Then, being "blessed" individually, both verbally and with holy water, by the Grace Cathedral clergy, all in the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi. (It should be noted that some parishioners choose to bring photos of their pets if it is difficult for their pets to attend the blessing.)

So, just who was Saint Francis of Assisi and why was he such a beloved figure?

Saint Francis of Assisi (born Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone) was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher, who lived from the late 12th to early 13th centuries. He founded the men's Franciscan Order, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the lay Third Order of Saint Francis.

"Francis sought occasion to love God in everything. He delighted in all the works of God's hands and from the vision of joy on earth his mind soared aloft to the life-giving source and cause of all," wrote Saint Bonaventure.

Here's a bit about the legacy of Saint Francis of Assisi, courtesy of Wikipedia:

It has been argued that no one in history was as dedicated as Francis to imitate the life, and carry out the work, of Christ in Christ’s own way. This is important in understanding Francis' character and his affinity for the Eucharist and respect for the priests who carried out the sacrament. He and his followers celebrated and even venerated poverty. Poverty was so central to his character that in his last written work, the Testament, he said that absolute personal and corporate poverty was the essential lifestyle for the members of his order.

He believed that nature itself was the mirror of God. He called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters,” and even preached to the birds and supposedly persuaded a wolf to stop attacking some locals if they agreed to feed the wolf. In his Canticle of the Creatures (Praises of Creatures or Canticle of the Sun), he mentioned the “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon,” the wind and water, and “Sister Death.” 

He referred to his chronic illnesses as his “sisters." His deep sense of brotherhood under God embraced others, and declared that “he considered himself no friend of Christ if he did not cherish those for whom Christ died.”

Francis's visit to Egypt and attempted rapprochement with the Muslim world had far-reaching consequences, long past his own death, since after the fall of the Crusader Kingdom it would be the Franciscans, of all Catholics, who would be allowed to stay on in the Holy Land and be recognized as "Custodians of the Holy Land" on behalf of Christianity.

On July 16, 1228, Francis was pronounced a saint by Pope Gregory IX. He is known as the patron saint of animals and ecology – the environment – and is one of the most venerated religious figures in history.

On March 13, 2013, upon his election as Pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina chose as his papal name Francis in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, thus becoming Pope Francis.

In the spirit of Saint Francis, I would like to share with you a 13th century prayer written by Saint Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


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