It’s pet-blessing time again, and the feast of St. Francis is just
around the corner. About seven years ago, I wrote the children’s book St. Francis
in San Francisco (published by Paulist Press). One of the first things St. Francis
does in this story is to talk to the animals, wild and tame, in San Francisco’s Golden
Gate Park—and to bless them!
Although this book is for children, it was also intended from the beginning
as a parable for adults. In the story, St. Francis makes a surprise visit to modern-day
San Francisco on October 4 because it is his feast day. Events begin in Golden Gate Park,
where he meets a little boy named Johnny and his dog, Sunpatch. It is Sunpatch who tells
the story. I had the little dog tell it, not simply to be cute but to suggest that the
animal’s point of view is important.
I chose to name the dog Sunpatch because of St. Francis’ famous
poem “The Canticle of Brother Sun.” For St. Francis of Assisi, the sun was
a symbol of God—the God who shines forth and radiates his goodness upon all. One
of the first things Sunpatch says in the story is: “My golden hair shines like a
patch of golden sunlight…and that’s how I got my name.” God’s
goodness and love, we believe, does shine upon all people and all creatures. And that is
why we always try to show all of them respect and love. This is just one example of the
little hidden meanings that can be found in this story or parable.
Here’s another example. When Sunpatch sees St. Francis’ beard,
he says that St. Francis “has fur on his face just like me.” Why does Sunpatch
even notice Francis’ beard in the first place? Is it not because he is an animal?
As an animal, Sunpatch senses, better than any human, that Francis is part of the
animal kingdom. Sunpatch sees clearly that Francis’ facial hair, his eyes and ears
are not that different from those of animals. Francis is not ashamed to have a beard that
makes him look a bit like the animals. He sees dignity in animals, and he’s proud
to be a brother of the animals in this way. Francis accepted his animal nature as a gift
from God. Maybe that is why St. Francis could talk so well to the animals and preach to
In this story, Francis preaches to a tree full of birds, just as he
did in his own life story. “My dear sister and brother birds,” he says, “always
praise and thank your loving creator. God gave you feathers and wings. You fly freely through
the air over housetops and lakes. You sing cheerful songs and find food without having
to work for a living. How God must love you!” Francis’ sermon to the birds
helps us to have more love and respect for our pets and all God’s creatures.
After these activities in Golden Gate Park, St. Francis asks Sunpatch
and his friend Johnny, to go with him on a taxi ride through the streets of San Francisco.
They visit the old Mission of San Francisco, which was built by followers of St. Francis
in 1776 and is the actual birthplace of the city of San Francisco.
Then Francis asks the boy and his dog to go with him on a cable-car ride
in downtown San Francisco. The three jump on a cable car that begins climbing one of the
big hills of San Francisco. The cable car is packed with people from many different countries.
St. Francis shouts to the operator: “This is wonderful! What a hoot! Here we are,
brothers and sisters from all around the world taking a happy ride together. Even Sunpatch
is with us to represent the animals. The whole family of creation is here having fun. This
is the way the journey of life is meant to be!”
Throughout the story, a little mouse keeps appearing somewhere on Francis’ brown
habit. The illustrator of the book, Kathy Baron, is very clever with little details like
that. Kathy lives in Eugene, Oregon, with her husband, two sons and two dogs.
Finally, the cable car begins climbing the biggest hill of all. At first,
Sunpatch is afraid to look. But when it passes over the top of the hill, he opens his eyes
and sees far below the blue water of the San Francisco Bay, with the Golden Gate Bridge
off to the left.
Soon the taxi takes St. Francis, Sunpatch and Johnny back to Golden Gate
Park. In the final picture of the book, St. Francis is waving goodbye to Johnny and his
dog. There is a rabbit near his feet and two birds are fluttering near his hand. In this
story, St. Francis shows himself a joyful and caring brother to all people and to all God’s
creatures. May God help us do the same!
Because St. Francis’ feast is almost upon us, we are happy to
tell you about our special offer regarding Friar Jack’s St.
Francis in San Francisco. If you order the book, you will receive a special
autographed copy and a free study guide by the author. The book makes a good birthday
or Christmas gift. See advertisement at top right.
respond to Friar Jims Catechism
Quiz: Abortion and the Gift of Life.
Dear Friar Jim: Father, we recently had a member of our church
commit suicide. I thought that if a person committed such an act, the Church would not
hold a Mass for them. In fact, there was a Mass for this member. Can you explain this to
Dear Rae: It would have been surprising and very unusual for the church NOT to have
a Mass for this poor soul. There is no question that we have no right to take our lives;
life is a gift of God and we are merely stewards. But, and it is a very big but, everything
depends on an individual’s personal guilt. If you consider why people—at least
99% of them—take their lives, it is because they are so distraught, so depressed,
so mentally mixed up that they are unable to make a truly free decision. If a person left
a note and said he was taking his life to prove there was no life after death, or to argue
against the resurrection of the body or as a deliberate act against God, that would
obviously be a whole different situation. But, as I'm sure you can imagine, people may
take their lives to escape unbearable emotional or physical pain. In other words, they
are not totally free in their action. We believe in a compassionate God, one who was so
kind to the possessed, the downtrodden. Jesus is the good shepherd. In all of this, we
believe that such a person would never be guilty of serious sin, only unfortunate misjudgment. I
do hope this helps in understanding the Church's practice. Friar Jim
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