October 4 has long been celebrated as the feast day of Saint Francis of Assissi (1181-1226), who is the patron saint of animals and ecology. Since the 1920s, the date has also been celebrated as the secular World Animal Day. One traditional way to honor the legacy of Saint Francis has been to hold an animal blessing service on or near October 4.
Francis saw God reflected in nature. In his hymn, “Canticle of the Sun,” he gives God thanks for Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Water, Fire, and Earth, all of whom he sees as rendering praise to God alongside humanity.
Many of the stories that surround the life of Francis say that he had a great love for animals and the environment. One legend is that one day, while Francis was travelling with some companions, they came upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to “wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds.” The birds surrounded him, intrigued by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away. Due in part to this legend, Francis is often portrayed with a bird, typically in his hand.
Another legend tells that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, was a wolf who had been terrorizing the locals by killing and eating not only other wild animals, but also livestock and even human beings. Francis went up into the hills and when he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Francis calmly led the wolf into the town, to the alarm of startled citizens. He made a pact between them and the wolf: because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger”, the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly and in return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks.
Francis of Assissi was and is a popular religious figure. It only took two years after his death for him to be formally declared a saint (usually a MUCH longer process) and there are groups of people still following Franciscan traditions not only in the Catholic church but throughout Protestant Christianity as well. There are formal orders of Franciscan nuns and monks in the Anglican church and in some Lutheran churches, as well as ecumenical groups and living communities that intentionally live by Francis’ example of poverty and kindness.
I would like to share a prayer and a blessing that I wrote for the outdoor service that we had in 2019 (which was attended by nine dogs, all of whom were very good boys and girls and seemed to be enjoying the attention that morning).
A PRAYER OF THANKS FOR ANIMALS
We give thanks for the universe that God has created for us.
For the animals who give us milk, eggs, and meat, we are grateful.
For the bees who give us honey and pollination, we are grateful.
For the herds that give us fur, wool, and leather, we are grateful.
For the mighty beasts who pull machinery and let us ride them, we are grateful.
For the pets who give us companionship and purpose, we are grateful.
For the beloved departed friends who gave us kisses, purrs, tail wags, and love,
we are grateful, even in grief.
A BLESSING FOR PETS
May you delight in the joy of God’s good creation, may you love and be loved by your human family, and may your water bowl never go dry. May you be happy and healthy, and may you bring smiles to the faces of all your friends. Blessings upon you, ___. God created you and called you good. And look at you! You are very, very good.