A Friar Jack 'Extra':
Musings Before the Feast Day of St. Francis
In my last Musings (of Sept. 4), I promised that this special
installment of Friar Jack's E-spirations would focus on the
feast of St. Francis (Oct. 4) and on the blessing of animals,
a popular custom among followers of St. Francis.
It seems important, however, to first comment on the horrific
events of September 1l where thousands lost their lives in the
catastrophic destruction of the NY World Trade Center and related
acts of terrorism. These actions shocked us into an awareness
of the fragileness and preciousness of all life. St. Francis
of Assisi, who had great reverence and care for the life of
all creatures, would certainly shed tears of intense grief over
the recent sufferings of these human brothers and sisters. In
the spirit of St. Francis, let's take a moment now to remember,
prayerfully and compassionately, all those killed, injured or
left grieving because of these acts of unbelievable violence
and cruelty. Loving God, may all find rest, strength and comfort
in you! Amen.
Some of you may want to consider taking some positive action.
I invite you to consider pledging some of your time for peacemaking
activities at http://www.PledgePeace.org.
There have been over 20,000 hours of peace pledges since the
awful events of Sept. 11. Also, we received a notice that Catholic
Charities USA has set up relief fund. You can find out more
about it at http://www.CatholicCharitiesUSA.org.
FRIAR JACK MUSES ABOUT ST. FRANCIS AND THE ANIMALS
St. Francis had such an appreciation for the gift of life,
which flowed from the hands of an all-loving Creator, that his
reverence for life not only applied to his human sisters and
brothers but spilled over, as well, into his compassion toward
all living creatures. It is in this context that I see the blessing
of animalsa meaningful ritual associated with the feast
of St. Francis. Our 2001 Listing of Animal Blessings is being
launched today (September 18) and you can survey it by clicking
Many animal lovers wonder, will we see our pets in heaven?
The question may seem small on the surface, but the answer has
profound implications for the whole created world. If you go
with me to the Bible, however, and see how animals are treated
in its pages, I think you'll see what I mean. It's not a simple
yes or no answer.
In the beginning, God created heaven and earth. It seems to
me that our God, who is caring toward all, created one big family
of creation. That being so, doesn't it make sense that God's
saving care would naturally extend not only to humans but to
the whole family of creation?
Consider the story of Noah and the ark. For me the ark is a
wonderful symbol of God's desire to save the whole family of
creation. The story suggests that God's plan is to save the
animals as well as the humans. The story seems to say: "In
God's eye, we are all in the same boat!" As St. Paul writes
to the Romans (8:22), "All creation is groaning" for
Consider, too, the covenant God made with all living creatures
after the flood goes away. The covenant or agreement is not
simply between God and the humans, but also "with all the
birds, and the various tame and wild animals.... Never again"
says God, "shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the
waters of a flood" (Genesis 9:10-ll). Then God puts a rainbow
in the sky and tells Noah: "This is the sign of the covenant
I have established between me and all mortal creatures that
are on earth" (9:17). Isn't it interesting that God is
much more careful than we humans to include the animals and
other creatures in his saving plan?
In the Psalms and in similar forms of prayer in the Bible, we
find examples of prayer that call upon other creatures to praise
God along with the humans. These are very inclusive kinds of
prayer. Listen to Psalm 148."Praise the Lord from the heavens....
Praise him sun and moon; praise him all you shining stars....
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all depths;
Fire and hail, snow and mist, storm winds that fulfill his word;
You mountains and all you hills, you fruit trees and all you
cedars; You wild beasts and all tame animals.... Let the kings
of earth and all peoples...Young men too, and maidens, old men
and boys, praise the name of the Lord...."
Does not this kind of biblical prayer suggest that all of us
creatures are taking part in one common spiritual journey toward
God? Does this not imply that all creatures are included in
God's plan of salvation?
It seems obvious that when St. Francis wrote his "Canticle
to Brother Sun," he was simply following the vision and
outlook he discovered in the pages of Scripture, especially
in a Psalm like 148. But he adds a personal touch, giving the
title of "Brother" and "Sister" to the various
creatures. Francis seems to emphasize all the more the viewpoint
that all creatures make up one family of creation under one
loving Creator in heaven. We are to form one communityone
symphony of praisewith our brother and sister creatures.
Turning our attention to the Gospels, we see that Jesus in his
preaching easily used images of the birds of the air and the
lilies of the field, also foxes, lost sheep, pearls, salt, fig
trees, mustard seeds and many more. He used created things in
his saving workwet clay on the eyes of a blind man to bring
healing. He used the products of wheat and grape to convey his
saving presence in the Eucharist. After his death and resurrection,
he left another hint that the whole family of creation was included
in his saving love. "Go into the whole world," he
told his disciples, "And preach the Gospel to every creature"
(Mark 16:15), not just to human listeners.
Moving to the Book of Revelation, we encounter the seer John
describing a heavenly vision of all creatures before the throne
of God. In that glorious gathering, he sees more than saved
humanity: "Then I heard every creature in heaven and on
earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the
universe, cry out: "To the one who sits on the throne and
to the lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever
and ever " (Rev. 5:11-14).
If ever there was a saint who took to heart this inclusive vision
of salvation, it was St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis literally
preached the gospel to every creatureto birds and fish, rabbits
and wolves, as well as humans. Why shouldn't he preach to the
animals and the birds? He did not want to be a human chauvinist,
pretending that he was saved apart from the rest of creation.
As I mentioned in my September 4 musings (http://www.AmericanCatholic.org/e-News/FriarJack/fj090401.asp),
I recently wrote a children's book, "St. Francis in San
Francisco," in which Francis visits modern-day San Francisco
on his feast day. Although written, first of all for children,
I have viewed the story from the start as a parable for readers
of all agesa parable written to help spread the rich spiritual
vision of St. Francis. I wrote a special article laying out,
in more detail, the biblical vision
behind this children's story that I think you might be interested
As fanciful as it may seem, the story of Sunpatch and St.
Francis in St.
Francis in San Francisco flows from the same biblical
vision as described aboveand dramatized so wonderfully
in the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Would it not be helpful
for us to go to that same vision when our children ask so earnestly:
"Will I see my little doggy in heaven?" Maybe we can
talk to our children about the story of Noah's ark, or read
to them from Psalm 148 or from St. Francis "Canticle to
Brother Sun." There are many hints in the Bible that God
wants our fellow creatures to be included in our journey into
God's saving presence.
I'm pleased to inform you that a copy of the story St.
Francis in San Francisco will be formally presented
to Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr., of San Francisco at San Francisco
City Hall on September 27 at 11 A.M. You can read about the
In the next issue I'll report on my experience in San Francisco.
Wish me luck! And, between now and then, may God grant us peace!
how to order Friar Jack's new children's book St. Francis
in San Francisco.
Peacemaking is not just for world leaders. It is built hour
by hour, day by day, by ordinary people. Consider pledging some
peacemaking time at http://www.PledgePeace.org.
Celebrate the Feast of St. Francis online at http://www.AmericanCatholic.org/Features/Francis
Find a pet blessing service or a prayer for a '"do-it-yourself"
Send a pet blessing e-Greeting! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
KEEP YOUR E-MAILS COMING! Although my hectic schedule makes
it impossible to respond personally to your e-mails, I do welcome
your comments and suggestions. I take the time to read your
emails and helpful feedbackand I pray for you and the
needs you share with me. Thanks for your understanding.
Jack Wintz, O.F.M.
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