Today is the Feast Day of Saint Francis who was born in Assisi in 1182. He was a man ahead of his time. Years ago, I struggled to find a link between my potentially pagan love for nature and animals and something (maybe a combination of motherhood and compassion fatigue from my job helping others) pulling me back to Jesus. Discovering Saint Francis was one of those “Aha!” moments. It was a relief to find this teacher who could bridge my two beloved spiritual paths to the Creator.
I was drawn back to church by a newspaper photo of an animal being blessed at the Church of the Good Shepherd. Back then, Good Shepherd may have been the first church in Southeastern North Carolina to bless animals. It started in the late 60s’ on Rogation Sunday, a time to give thanks for crops and livestock. Since that time, it has become a tradition at Good Shepherd and many other churches to bless the animals on the Sunday closest to the Feast Day of Saint Francis. Blessing the animals to honor Saint Francis is much more meaningful to me, because our animal companions mean so much more than livestock. (Though I hope all the animals we now call “livestock” will someday be treated more kindly.)
Our animal friends give us loyalty and patient companionship. They love us no matter what, and hopefully, they teach us mercy. There’s a sweet little song called “God and Dog” in which Wendy Francisco sings about how dogs reflect the unconditional love of God. Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals and the environment, understood this relationship. He cherished animals and the earth, praised the sun and the moon and cared for the lepers because they are all creations of God.
There is a wonderful book, written by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr about Saint Francis of Assisi. One of the stories in this book is a story about Saint Francis convincing a vicious wolf to stop terrorizing the town of Gubbio. Miraculously, “Brother Wolf” lived the rest of his life “peacefully in Gubbio- fed, cared for and loved by the townspeople, because it reminded them of Francis’ visit.
Let us remember today and always the words of Saint Francis, ” Make me a channel of your peace.”