A reflection by Lisa Brown
Certainly the liturgical season has its profound moments. The triumph of Easter Vigil. The illumination of Epiphany. The poignancy of Ash Wednesday. The joy of Christmas. Yet one of my favorite annual events isn’t all that significant as far as the liturgical calendar is concerned. On the Sunday closest to October 4, it has become a delightful tradition here at St. Paul’s to celebrate the Feast of Francis of Assisi with an all-creatures-are-welcome Blessing of the Animals. If you ask me, anyone who loves animals has a leg-up on the path to Sainthood, but Francis was more than just a friend to animals.
The son of a wealthy merchant, a young Francis began his spiritual transformation while being held as a captive of war. Rejecting worldly wealth and ephemeral pleasures, Francis embraced poverty and traveled throughout Assisi preaching penance, peace and love for all, love not merely as an emotion but rather a force binding all people, creatures, and indeed, joining all of God’s creation together. Francis’ way of addressing animals and the elements – Brother Sun, Sister Moon – was not an affectation but rather a reflection of his deep understanding of interconnectedness. As he shared his message, others were drawn to it, forming the Order of St. Francis, and under the guidance of Clare a rich noblewoman who was transformed by his preaching, the Poor Clares.
So what does this story have to do with bringing our dogs (cats, bunnies, guinea pigs, snakes, and stuffed luvies) to church on Sunday, October 7? Certainly in a time of social divisiveness and threats to our natural world, the reminder that our lives are intrinsically interconnected with every other living being is essential. But what I really love about Francis is his instance on unceasing praise of God, finding joy in creation, and inviting others to experientially participate. When we sing “All Creatures of Our God and King” it is a paraphrase of his Canticle of the Sun, a poetic prayer celebrating the natural world, recognized as the first song or poem written in Italian. When we gather at Christmas to watch our children take part in the annual pageant, we are continuing a tradition started by Francis as a way to better help people experience the Birth of Christ. And when we crowd into church with our squirmy, unpredictable pets who somehow always manage to behave better than we feared, we are forced to remember that we are an inseparable part of God’s glorious creation, and that we share a pew with our critters as we must share this world with all who dwell below the skies. And honestly, maybe the Feast of St. Francis is a reminder that we are called to be the person our dog thinks we are: AWESOME and beloved by God, regardless of our status, our clothing, or the balance in our checkbook. It’s a good day to celebrate.
So bring your pet. Bring your kids. Bring your neighbors and their pets and their kids. Let us celebrate and feast the Saint from Assisi and join in his song of praise for all creation.
A Collect for Francis:
Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen