So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:21, 25
This weekend many churches will be celebrating the blessing of pets in recognition of St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is commemorated on October 4.
When I was in parish ministry this was one of the best attended Saturday services of the year. The normal gathering of 15-20 usually swelled to three times as many, and even higher if you counted all the animals.
It attracted people who may have never attended church at any other time. So naturally, I saw it as an evangelism tool.
I have fond memories of animal blessings. And though I have no horror stories to recount, the blessings were not without challenges.
Normally, we held them outdoors, but a couple times weather forced us inside. Thank goodness for our spacious parish hall. But since that was also where the adult Sunday School met, our custodian graciously always made himself available in case we needed a quick emergency clean up in time for the next morning.
Thanks to my wife, I have become somewhat of a cat lover over the years we’ve been married. We are now on our third one. And I’ve learned some lessons about pets from my wife as well as from our felines.
All of our cats have stories. I’ll make them quick so as not to bore you with them.
Our first two, Milagros (Mili), and Cali, were rescues. Mili was thrown from the window of a passing car right in front of my wife’s car. She stopped to pick it up and brought it home. She was only about three to four weeks old.
Cali, on the other hand, showed up at our doorstep one 4th of July, looking for food. Our neighbor gave it part of a hot dog, so she kept coming back again and again. We continued to feed it until the weather began to get colder and decided to bring her in.
Both Mili and Cali have crossed the Rainbow Bridge. (I’m not fond of that euphemism for death, but it resonates with pet lovers.) Cali died in 2014; and Mili, just last November.
Mili and Cali were both persistent. If they wanted a head rub, they would continue to brush up against you until you gave them what they wanted. They would both sleep with us. They were always waiting for us at the door when we returned after being away for any length of time. Whenever we sat down, they were on our laps, sitting there, purring with an inner-peace and contentment that most humans would envy.
This past March, after replacing our carpeting with hardwood floors, we welcomed Callie into our home. We saw her in an ad from a cat fostering agency and, after a weekend “meet and greet,” we adopted her.
We’re still trying to figure Callie out. Linda, my wife, has bonded with her. Of course, Linda always does.
However, Callie is still somewhat frightened of me; and, despite my best efforts, we have yet to connect. I watch her and wonder what traumatic experience she may have had that makes her wary of me.
I have become very aware of the very small signals in life our pets send us, and they’ve been lessons worth learning.
God has given us animals to be our friends and companions. They are an extension of family and very much loved by us who own them. If you doubt that, post a cat picture on Facebook or Instagram, and watch with amazement the instantaneous responses.
The physical, mental, and spiritual benefits to owning a pet are too numerous to mention here.
But chief among those is the unconditional love that our animals give us. It is their blessing for us, a gift from God.
In addition, the love we give to a pet, and receive from a pet, can draw us more deeply into the larger circle of life, into the wonder of our common relationship to our Creator.
Francis, in his simple wisdom, understood all these things. He talked to the animals. He understood them. He knew their place in creation.
That is why we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis.
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