October 3, 2002

Why St. Francis Treasured His Bond With Other Creatures
by Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M.


Be praised, O God, through all that you have made!
St. Francis saw the importance of all creatures
Animal blessings and the feast of St. Francis

Many of you, I hope, will have an opportunity this weekend to attend an animal blessing ceremony in honor of St. Francis, whose feast is this Friday, October 4. St. Francis gloried in his link with other creatures. He never tried to isolate himself from other creatures as if Christian perfection required him to distance himself from or look down on the animal or creature world. Francis was happy to be a brother to the animals and member of the family of creatures. He seemed proud to be integrally and closely linked with other creatures.

The same should be true of us. Think of it: We are intimately linked with other creatures—for our very survival. Do we really grasp how closely tied we are to them and how important they are to us? If you and I decided to seal ourselves off completely from Brother Sun, what would happen? We would quickly freeze to death. If we cut ourselves off from Sister Water or Brother Air or Mother Earth, you can quickly imagine the result. It's a no-brainer. We would need someone to notify our next of kin!

Be praised, O God, through all that you have made!

If we fully understood our vital connection to the created world, as Francis did, we would no doubt be inspired, like him, to compose a hymn of praise to all the creatures: "All praise be yours, O Lord, Be praised, my Lord, through all that you have made. All praise, first of all, for Brother Sun, through whom you bring light and who is a symbol of you. All praise be yours through Sister Moon and Stars...through Brother Wind and Air...through Sister Water and Brother Fire...and through Sister Earth, our mother, who feeds us and produces various fruits and colored flowers and herbs." It's not Francis who is a bit crazy for singing a song in praise of his sister and brother creatures. It's we who are unenlightened for not doing so.

It was second nature for St. Francis to include the whole family of creation in his prayers of praise to God. He did not see himself as journeying through life inside a plastic bubble, as if to keep himself uncontaminated from other creatures. He did not see himself as journeying toward God apart from the rest of the family of creation. He was a brother to the sun and moon, the streams and lakes, the birds and animals and flowers, and it seemed right for him to praise the Creator in conjunction with them. He did not see himself as some proud and aloof master outside the family of creation with rights to dominate and exploit other creatures as he pleased. He embraced his ties with the minerals and plants and animals. All were made by a holy Creator and deserve our highest respect.

St. Francis saw the importance of all creatures

Francis gave animals a lot of attention. He often laid his hands on them and blessed them and talked lovingly to them about God. This is why many Churches have animal blessings on or around the feast of St. Francis. He simply saw animals as having great dignity and importance. I tried to emphasize this in my children's story, St. Francis in San Francisco, by making a dog (named Sunpatch) the narrator of the story. In the story, St. Francis visits modern-day San Francisco and makes friends with Sunpatch and his boy-companion, Johnny. I chose an animal as the story's narrator not just to be cute, but to suggest the truth that animals have an important place in the life of this planet and should not be overlooked.

When Sunpatch meets St. Francis in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, moreover, the first thing the dog notices about St. Francis is that "he had fur on his face just like me."
And the reason for this detail, again, was not just to be cute or clever. It was to suggest something deeper about St. Francis. Why does the dog notice St. Francis' facial hair? The dog senses, better than any human, that Francis is part of the animal kingdom. Sunpatch sees clearly that the fur on Francis' face, his eyes and ears, his digestive and breathing system, and so forth, are not unlike those of animals.

Most of us "rational animals," as we humans are called, tend to disown and distance ourselves from our animal nature, denying an important part of who we are. Being part of the animal kingdom is not a putdown in the view of St. Francis. Francis embraced his animal nature as a gift of God—a gift that Christ also shared. No doubt that is why St. Francis got along so well with the creature world.

Francis saw in Brother Sun a symbol of God himself. Just as the sun sends its warm, nurturing rays upon all creatures, so also God, who "looked at everything he had made and found it very good" (Genesis 1:31), beams forth his love upon all creatures, bathing them with divine goodness. That's why the dog in my story is named Sunpatch: His "golden hair shines like a patch of sunlight."

Animal blessings and the feast of St. Francis

This coming weekend I plan to fulfill a long-held personal wish to attend the celebration of the feast of St. Francis at the (Episcopal) Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. This year it takes place on Sunday October 6, 11 A.M. I am covering the event for St. Anthony Messenger magazine in order to prepare a feature article for its pages (to appear, God willing, in October 2003).

As indicated on the St. John the Divine Cathedral website, "St. Francis Day is one of the Cathedral's most cherished observances. Since 1985, neighbors and visitors from all over the world have gathered as an eagle or llama or an elephant has led a procession of animals to the altar to be blessed by the Cathedral clergy....Thousands of visitors participate, often holding their pets on their laps. Following the service, clergy offer individual blessings to pets at a festive fair on the lawn."

Happy Feast of St. Francis to you all!

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The feast of St. Francis is
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