COLUMN: St. Francis' legacy becomes part of animal blessing

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By Mary Schmuck

Maybe it is just me – but there seem to be more events featuring the blessing of animals. These are occurring in various churches, too. One regional newspaper covered an event in two articles, before and after.

Mercy Sacred Heart Village in Louisville contributes use of land on the west side of its campus to the Billy Goat Hill (former name of the neighborhood) Community Garden. The Garden has been hosting an annual Harvest Festival that operates electricity free. This year’s celebration included for the first time a “Blessing of All Animals/Critters.” Along with the Garden’s bat houses, beehives, raised gardens inhabitants and a range of audience pets, Louisville Metro Police Department will have a couple equestrian and canine unit representatives there – in a spirit of peace and joy.

The blessing is simple for such an interfaith audience: “I wish a special blessing on you, ______ and all animals – in homes, farms, forests, land, seas, air.  Thank you for your faithful and interesting companionship and help to us all. May I learn good things from you about life, joy, trust and service.  I will take good care of you too. Blessed be God, our Higher Power, who created us all. Amen.”

There are probably a range of reasons for this growing interest. I suspect at this particular time that animals of the pet kind are newly appreciated for being nice, faithful, unconditional, not caustic and  not demonizing of us (though some seem to have an ability to pout after being slighted in some way like not being taken along on every trip).

Almost all of these blessing of animals events are in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi – whom almost everyone of whatever faith tradition seems to sincerely admire. This appreciation is another instance of the power for good of one person.

Francis was born in early 1180s in Italy. His influence continues strongly to this day in various religious communities of men and women across our global community and not just in the Catholic community. The number of St. Francis statues is a “big number.” Wikipedia notes that he is one of the most venerated religious figures in history.

His appreciation of creation is deep and wide. This appreciation started long before folks in our time realized that special though humans are, our physical bodies are made of the same stuff as the stars. His “Canticle of the Sun” speaks of great love and praise of God as well as various creatures being like brother and sister to him and us all, creatures like the sun, moon, wind, water, fire, Earth itself. 

In his life and service he is likewise renowned for pairing that appreciation with great concern and ministry to persons who are poor. Someone recently noted that maybe his appreciation for all creation was basic to his drive to be nonviolent.

Wouldn’t life in our time be ever so much better if we took on this spirit of admiration, praise, gratitude and concern of St. Francis, that appreciation going all around the circle of creation from pets to all animals to all creation and to all persons, especially our sisters and brothers in our one human family who are poor and vulnerable? 

A related question – what will happen to us if we don’t close that circle of admiration and concern?

Sister Mary Schmuck, RSM works with Catholic Charities of Louisville Catholic Identity and External Relations, Nazareth. She may be reached at schmuckrsm@scnazarethky.org or 502-331-4545.