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As autumn arrives, people in various places may notice a procession of animals—from dogs and cats to hamsters and even horses—being led to churches for a special ceremony called the Blessing of Pets.
This custom is conducted in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi’s love for all creatures.


Why We Bless Animals
By: Jack Wintz, Kevin Mackin, John Feister


As autumn arrives, people in various places may notice a procession of animals—from dogs and cats to hamsters and even horses—being led to churches for a special ceremony called the Blessing of Pets.
This custom is conducted in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi’s love for all creatures.

Francis, whose feast day is October 4th, loved the larks flying about his hilltop town. He and his early
brothers, staying in a small hovel, allowed themselves to be displaced by a donkey.

Francis wrote an ode to God’s living things. “All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.” And there was testimony in the cause for St. Clare of Assisi’s canonization that referred to her cat!

The bond between person and pet is like no other relationship, because the communication between fellow creatures is at its most basic. Eye to eye are two creatures of love. No wonder people enjoy
taking their animal companions to church for a blessing. Church is the place where the bond of creation is celebrated.

At Franciscan churches, a friar with brown robe and white cord often welcomes each animal with a special prayer. As the prayer is offered, the pet is gently sprinkled with holy water. Believe it or not,
most pets receive this sacramental spritz with dignity, though I must admit I have seen some cats flatten their ears a bit.

Usually the Blessing of Pets is held outdoors. But I remember it rained one year, and all were invited inside St. Stephen’s Church in Manhattan. It was quite a sight to see pairs of creatures—one human,
one animal—sitting in the pews. The pastor joined right in with his beagle. Noah’s Ark was never like this!

Some people criticize the amount and cost of care given to pets. And certainly our needy fellow humans should not be neglected. However, I believe every creature is important. 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.

St. Francis and the Wolf
by John Feister

Perhaps the most famous story of St. Francis is when he tamed the wolf that was terrorizing the people of Gubbio. While Francis was staying in that town, he learned of a wolf so ravenous that it was killing and eating not only animals, but people, too. The people took up arms and went after it, but those who encountered the wolf perished. Villagers were afraid to leave the city walls.

Francis had pity on the people and decided to go out and meet the wolf. He was warned by the people, but he insisted that God would take care of him. A brave friar and several peasants accompanied
Francis outside the city gate. But soon the peasants lost heart and said they would go no farther.
Francis and his companion began to walk on. Suddenly the wolf, jaws agape, charged out of the woods. Francis made the Sign of the Cross toward it. The power of God caused the wolf to slow down and close its mouth.

Then Francis called out to the creature: “Come to me, Brother Wolf. In the name of Christ, I order you not to hurt anyone.” At that moment, the wolf lowered its head and lay down at St. Francis’
feet, meek as a lamb.

St. Francis explained to the wolf that he had been terrorizing the people, killing not only animals, but humans who are made in the image of God. “Brother Wolf,” said Francis, “I want to make peace between you and the people of Gubbio. They will harm you no more and you must no longer harm them. All past crimes are to be forgiven.”

The wolf showed its assent by moving its body and nodding its head. Then to the absolute surprise of the gathering crowd, Francis asked the wolf to make a pledge. As St. Francis extended his hand
to receive the pledge, so the wolf extended its front paw and placed it into the saint’s hand. Then Francis commanded the wolf to follow him into town to make a peace pact with the townspeople.
The wolf meekly followed St. Francis. By the time they got to the town square, everyone was there to witness the miracle. With the wolf at his side, Francis gave the town a sermon on the wondrous and fearful love of God, calling them to repent from all their sins.

Then he offered the townspeople peace, on behalf of the wolf. The townspeople promised in a loud voice to feed the wolf. Then Francis asked the wolf if he would live in peace under those terms. He bowed his head and twisted his body in a way that convinced everyone he accepted the pact. Then once again the
wolf placed its paw in Francis’ hand as a sign of the pact.

From that day on, the people kept the pact they had made. The wolf lived for two years among the townspeople, going from door to door for food. It hurt no one and no one hurt it. Even the dogs
did not bark at it. When the wolf finally died of old age, the people of Gubbio were sad. The wolf’s peaceful ways had been a living reminder to them of the wonders, patience, virtues and holiness
of St. Francis. It had been a living symbol of the power and providence of the living God.



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St. Francis and the Birds
by Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

We often associate St. Francis of Assisi with birds. There are 13th-century stories of Francis preaching to birds in trees. A famous painting by Giotto portrays Francis humbly admiring birds on the ground, his hand raised in blessing.

In popular images of Francis today, we see birds circling his head or perched on his shoulders. And let’s not forget the countless admirers of St. Francis who are happy to place him on their birdbaths!

In reading St. Bonaventure’s Life of St. Francis recently, I was surprised that he places the story of St. Francis preaching to the birds at the point in Francis’ life where he is struggling with a deep personal dilemma: Should he retire from the world and devote himself entirely to prayer or should he continue
traveling about as a preacher of the gospel? To answer this question, St. Francis sends brothers to seek the advice of two of his most trusted colleagues: Brother Sylvester and the holy virgin Clare and her sisters. The word comes back quickly that it is their clear judgment that God wants Francis to keep proclaiming the good news of God’s saving love. No sooner does Francis hear their response than he
immediately stands up, and, in the words of St. Bonaventure, “without the slightest delay he takes to the roads, to carry out the divine command with great fervor.”

The typical reader at this juncture, I believe, would expect St. Bonaventure to portray St. Francis as rushing off to the nearest village or marketplace to begin preaching the gospel to the people gathered there. But where does Francis actually go? Bonaventure writes: “He came to a spot where a large flock of birds of various kinds had come together.  When God’s saint saw them, he quickly ran to the spot and greeted them as if they were endowed with reason….

“He went right up to them and solicitously urged them to listen to the word of God, saying, ‘Oh birds, my brothers and sisters, you have a great obligation to praise your Creator, who clothed you in feathers and gave you wings to fly with, provided you with pure air and cares for you without any
worry on your part.’…The birds showed their joy in a remarkable fashion: They began to stretch their necks, extend their wings, open their beaks and gaze at him attentively. “He went through their midst with amazing fervor of spirit, brushing against them with his tunic. Yet none of them moved from the spot until the man of God made the sign of the cross and gave them permission to leave; then they all flew away together. His companions waiting on the road saw all these things.

When he returned to them, that pure and simple man began to accuse himself of negligence because he had not preached to the birds before.” I believe that Bonaventure is trying to shock us into widening our horizons and into learning with St. Francis that the whole family of creation deserves more respect and ought to be invited to praise God along with us human beings. Maybe just as Francis accused
himself of negligence for not inviting the birds—and other animals, reptiles, and so forth—to praise God with him, so we need to admit the same kind of negligence, too.

The more St. Francis grew in wisdom and in his understanding that God’s saving love goes out to all creatures, the more he began to see that all creatures make up one family. The most important key to Francis’ understanding that all creatures form one family is the Incarnation. Francis had a great fascination with the feast of Christmas. He was deeply aware of that one moment in history in which God entered creation and the Word became flesh. In his mind, this awesome event sent shockwaves
through the whole fabric of creation.

The Divine Word not only became human. The Word of God became flesh, entering, not only the
family of humanity, but the whole family of creation, becoming one in a sense with the very dust out of which all things were made.

Francis had a keen sense that all creatures—not just humans—must be included in the celebration of Christmas. Francis’ biographers tell us that he wanted the emperor to ask all citizens to scatter grain along the roads on Christmas Day so that the birds and other animals would have plenty to eat. Walls, too, should be rubbed with food, Francis said, and the beasts in the stable should receive a bounteous meal on Christmas Day. He believed that all creatures had a right to participate in the celebration of Christmas.

More and more, Francis harbored within himself a profound instinct that the saving plan of God, as revealed by the child-Savior born in Bethlehem, was to touch every part of the created world. Given this vision, it was natural for Francis to take literally Jesus’ command in Mark’s Gospel to “proclaim
the gospel to every creature”—to birds and fish, rabbits and wolves, as well as to humans. St. Francis refused to be a human chauvinist—presuming that he was to be saved apart from the rest of
creation.

Will we see our pets and other creatures in the next life? Only God can answer a question like this. But because of his preaching to the birds and his growing respect for other creatures, St. Francis seemed to be developing the insight that God’s plan of salvation is perhaps larger than most of us have imagined. Near the end of his life, Francis composed his Canticle of the Creatures in which he invites all creatures
to praise God—Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire, Sister Water, and our Sister Mother Earth and so forth. He seems to see more clearly than ever that all creatures make up one family of creation.
And this leads to the question: If we, like Francis, are expected to invite all creatures to praise God with us during our life here on earth, shouldn’t they also be invited to praise God in heaven as well?


St. Francis’ Canticle of Creation

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through all that you have made.
And first my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day....

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through Sister Moon and Stars;
In the heavens you have made them,
bright and precious and fair.

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through Brothers Wind and Air....

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through Sister Water,
so useful, lowly, precious and fair.

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through Brother Fire, through whom
you brighten up the night....

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through Sister Earth, our mother,
who feeds us...and produces
various fruits with colored flowers
and herbs...

Praise and bless my Lord,
and give him thanks,
And serve him with great humility.

‘Do-it-yourself’  Franciscan Animal Blessing

For all animals:

Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures.
On the fifth and sixth days of creation, you called forth
fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land.
You inspired St. Francis to call all animals his brothers and sisters.
We ask you to bless this animal.
By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan.
May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures!
Amen.

For a sick animal:

Heavenly Father, you created all things for your glory
and made us stewards of this creature.
If it is your will, restore it to health and strength.
Blessed are you, Lord God,
and holy is your name forever and ever.
Amen.




Kevin E. Mackin, O.F.M., is a Franciscan of the Holy Name Province. John Feister is editor-in-chief of St. Anthony Messenger. Jack Wintz, O.F.M., senior editor of St. Anthony Messenger and a Franciscan friar for over 45 years, is also the author of a children's book, St. Francis in San Francisco (Paulist Press, 2001), Will I See My Dog in Heaven? (Paraclete Press). These and other titles by Friar Jack can be ordered at www.AmericanCatholic.org.

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Mary Magdalene: Except for the mother of Jesus, few women are more honored in the Bible than Mary Magdalene. Yet she could well be the patron of the slandered, since there has been a persistent legend in the Church that she is the unnamed sinful woman who anointed the feet of Jesus in Luke 7:36-50. 
<p>Most Scripture scholars today point out that there is no scriptural basis for confusing the two women. Mary Magdalene, that is, “of Magdala,” was the one from whom Christ cast out “seven demons” (Luke 8:2)—an indication, at the worst, of extreme demonic possession or, possibly, severe illness. </p><p>Father Wilfrid J. Harrington, O.P., writing in the <i>New Catholic Commentary</i>, says that “seven demons” “does not mean that Mary had lived an immoral life—a conclusion reached only by means of a mistaken identification with the anonymous woman of Luke 7:36.” Father Edward Mally, S.J., writing in the <i>Jerome Biblical Commentary,</i> agrees that she “is not...the same as the sinner of Luke 7:37, despite the later Western romantic tradition about her.” </p><p>Mary Magdalene was one of the many “who were assisting them [Jesus and the Twelve] out of their means.” She was one of those who stood by the cross of Jesus with his mother. And, of all the “official” witnesses that might have been chosen for the first awareness of the Resurrection, she was the one to whom that privilege was given. She is known as the "Apostle to the Apostles."</p> American Catholic Blog Jesus does not save us as individuals, but as members of His Body. We are not just people—unconnected and isolated arms and legs. We are a people—in fact, the People of God.

 
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