At the liturgical memorial of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 4, a number of animals suddenly appeared in parish churches throughout Brooklyn and Queens. These dogs and cats were joined by many other types of pets, like hamsters, turtles, birds, and reptiles. No, it was not an invasion of animals but a reminder that these pets are “all creatures of our God and King.”
Yes, on the memorial of St. Francis, il Poverello (as he is called in Italian, literally “the little poor one”), creatures both great and small arrive to be blessed by priests and deacons, along with their owners. This blessing is done for many reasons.
First, it reminds us of the love and care that St. Francis of Assisi demonstrated to all creations, even the wolf of Gubbio.
Second, it reminds us that we are called, as human beings, to care for all of God’s creations, especially animals.
And third, it reminds us of what a blessing pets can be for us as human beings.
We are all familiar with the images of St. Francis surrounded by the creatures with which God had blessed him.
This is due in no small part to the famous story of St. Francis and the wolf in Gubbio, a beautiful little city in Umbria. The legend of “The Little Flowers of St. Francis,” which we can read about in the 14th-century text, tells us about the fierce wolf who was terrorizing the natives of the city. Francis goes out to see the wolf and calm the animal. The great Saint of Assisi said: “Come here, Brother Wolf. I command you, on behalf of Christ, that you do no harm to me or to anyone.” And what was the response of the wolf? It became as gentle as a lamb. A peace covenant is made between the wolf and the people of Gubbio. The patron of animals wrote: “All things of creation are children of the Father and thus brothers of man. God wants us to help animals if they need help. Every creature in distress has the same right to be protected.”
This leads us to a second point: We have the obligation to care for all of God’s creation.
It is all a gratuitous gift of our loving God. The human being, man and woman, is created in God’s own image and likeness and has the highest dignity. In the Old Testament book of Genesis 1:28, the Lord God commands Adam to care for and subdue the earth and all the creatures of the earth. Animals are part of the creation of God, and, although not a perfect partner for man, as we read about in Genesis 2, we still bear the responsibility for these creatures.
This leads us to the third and final point: We who are created in the image and likeness of God and have immortal souls are so blessed with the gifts of God that are our pets.
Although our pets do not have immortal souls — and, yes, we should never value the life of our pets over human life — what great and unconditional love is demonstrated by the love of a pet in our lives.
These creatures give us joy, and for that, we must be very grateful to God, our loving Creator. We need never be cruel to animals, but treat them with unconditional love and compassion.
If we are cruel to animals, then we most likely will be cruel to our fellow human beings. Let us rejoice in the gifts from God that are our pets.