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This and That - The Blessing of the Animals PDF Print E-mail
Monday, October 10, 2011 8:00 AM

Catholics honor various saints for various reasons.  Over the years the Catholic Church has “canonized” many saints.  It’s a rather complicated process after miracles are attributed to these holy people.

St. Francis of Assisi is one of these holy men.  His feast day is Oct. 4 and he was known as the lover of animals, as well as humans.

Father Joe Przybysz pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish in Fort Jennings chose Sunday afternoon for the annual Blessing of the Animals.  This is the third year for this event in Fort Jennings.  Many children and grownups took advantage of this special blessing of their pets.  Many have come each year.  They bring dogs, cats, rabbits and other small creatures.  One young man asked Father Joe to make a “house call” to bless the larger animals, like his daughter’s 4-H steer.  Father Joe was happy to comply with the request.

The blessing goes something like this: “Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless these pets.  By the power of your love, enable them to live according to your plan.  May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation?  Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your special creatures! Amen!”

St. Francis wrote a Canticle of the Creatures, an ode to God’s living things. “All praise to You, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.”

The bond between a person and his pet is very special. For those who live alone, a pet can be a true companion.  Dogs have long been used as seeing eye dogs. Many have been taught to do special “jobs” for the handicapped. They are often used for law enforcement, like searching for drugs. Many are known to be good cattle dogs or watch dogs. As for cats, most of them are really good at keeping the mice away.

Perhaps the most famous story of St. Francis and relationship with the animals is the legend of the wolf. While visiting in the Italian town of Gubbio, Francis learned of the wolf that was terrorizing the people and animals of the village. Villagers were afraid to leave the city wall.
Francis had pity on the people and decided to go out in search of the wolf. A brave friar and several peasants accompanied Francis on the walk but soon most of them ran back to the wall.
When Francis and his companion came near the forest, the wolf, jaws agape, charged out of the woods. The power of God caused the wolf to slow down and to close its mouth. Then Francis called out to the creature, “Come to me Brother Wolf, in the name of Christ. I order you not to hurt anyone.” At that moment, the wolf lowered its head and lay down at St. Francis’ feet, meek as a lamb. Francis said: “Brother Wolf, I want to make peace between you and the people of Gubbio. They will harm you no more and you must no longer harm them. All past crimes are to be forgiven.”  The wolf showed his acceptance of St. Francis’ request by moving its body and nodding its head.  
Francis asked the wolf to make a pledge by extending his hand to the wolf. Much to the surprise of the townspeople who had ventured outside the wall, the wolf extended its front paw and placed it into the saint’s hand. Then Francis commanded the wolf to follow him into the town to make peace with the villagers.

Francis gave the people of the town a sermon on the wondrous and fearful love of God, calling them to repent from all their sins. Then he offered the townspeople peace on behalf of the wolf. He then asked the wolf if he would live in peace under those terms. He bowed his head and twisted his body in a way that convinced everyone he accepted the pact. The wolf again placed his paw in the hand of Francis. Everyone kept the pact.

The wolf lived for two years among the townspeople, going from door to door for food. It hurt no one and no one hurt him. Even the dogs lived in peace with the wolf. When the wolf finally died of old age, the people of Gubbio were sad. The wolf’s peaceful ways had been a living reminder to them of the of the holiness of St. Francis and served as a living symbol of the power and providence of the living God.

Francis was not always a saint. He was born in Assisi in 1181, the son of a wealthy merchant. While growing up he “sowed his wild oats” like many young men.

In a war between Assisi and Perugia, Francis, at age 20 fought with youthful enthusiasm. He was wounded and taken prisoner. Spending the next year in a dungeon, he contracted malaria. He was ransomed by his father. Following the victories of Count Walter of Brienne, Francis dreamt of becoming a knight. These hopes were shattered upon the death of the count.

One day when Francis was riding his horse, he came upon a leper.  Instead of just throwing the leper a coin, Francis dismounted his horse and embraced the leper. As time went on, Francis became more concerned of the sick and people who were less fortunate. He sought a life of solitude.

As time went by, he felt God was calling him to something different. He found that other men were interested in peace and serving others and to follow Christ. Soon there grew a small commune on the outskirts of town. Here a new Order of the Church was born. Today it is known as the Franciscan Order.

Before Francis died in 1226 at the age of 44, he founded three orders.  His gift to humankind was his love of God as he experienced Him in all of His creation. His legacy lives on in the followers of St. Francis who today seek to inspire in themselves and others the ideals of peace and justice of the gospels.

St. Francis is also known as the founder of the Christmas Creche or Nativity Set at a Midnight Mass at Greccio in 1223. We’ll save that story for Christmas.


Last Updated on Tuesday, November 06, 2012 3:27 PM

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