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.

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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 animals—a 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 on http://www.AmericanCatholic.org/Features/Francis

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 its liberation.

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 community—one symphony of praise—with 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 work—wet 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 creature—to 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 ages—a 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 in.

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 above—and 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.

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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 event at
http://www.AmericanCatholic.org/e-News/FriarJack

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!

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Learn how to order Friar Jack's new children's book St. Francis in San Francisco.

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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.

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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" blessing.
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 feedback—and I pray for you and the needs you share with me. Thanks for your understanding. — Friar Jack
friarjack@franciscanmedia.org.


—Jack Wintz, O.F.M.


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