Today, October 4, 2010, is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology, who had an appreciation for all God’s creatures, great and small. Many Episcopal churches hold animal blessings on or around this day. Yesterday, my church held their annual pet blessing service. We typically have a short service, the blessing of individual animals, and free pet exams by veterinarians. We also give out treats for the animals and take up donations or collections of animal food for our local animal shelter. We had a pretty good turn out despite it being a very cool, cloudy, and windy day, and the fact that our state’s NFL team was playing a home game that day. Yesterday, we had mostly dogs, a few cats, a horse and a stuffed hamster (children were encouraged to bring their favorite stuffed animals). In years past, we have had snakes, birds, fish, hamsters, guinea pigs, and iguanas. All animals great and small are welcome, and all species. Yesterday morning, our priest became unexpectedly ill, so we had to adapt the service to a “celebration of animals” service. There were readings and prayers. A General Blessing Prayer was read since the priest wasn’t there to bless each animal individually.
I love the blessing of the animals service. Pets are a blessing from God and this should be celebrated. Most pet owners consider their pets part of their family. Our pets give us unconditional love and it is important to recognize and celebrate the special relationship we have with them. They love us without judgment and that makes us feel good. We also have the pet blessing service to remind ourselves of the beauty of God’s creation and our role in protecting and caring for that creation. I think the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky said it best:
Love all God’s creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light; love the beasts, love the plants, love every creature. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. And once you have perceived it, you will begin to comprehend it ceaselessly, more, more, and more every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an abiding universal love. Love the animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and untroubled joy.
Here are a few pictures from our Blessing of the Animals service yesterday.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
where there is hatred, let us sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that are born to eternal life. AMEN
~Prayer of St. Francis