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Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)
St. Francis inspires us by his love of peace and his kinship with all creatures. Some eight centuries after Francis lived in Italy, hundreds of thousands of Franciscans around the world strive to follow the Gospel with the joy he expressed.
St. Francis embraced this prayer before a crucifix in a little church called San Damiano: "Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart. Instill in me a correct faith, a certain hope and a perfect love; a sense and a knowledge, Lord, so that I may do your holy and true command."
Francis’ words are often in the form of direct "conversation" with God, a conversation that includes all creation. His Canticle of the Creatures proclaims: "Most High, all-powerful, good Lord, all praise, glory, honor and blessing are yours...All praise to you, Oh Lord, for Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” all these brother and sister creatures. His themes spring from sacred scripture, e.g. Psalms ("The orb of the Sun, resplendent at its rising; what a wonderful work of the Most High!") and St. Matthew’s Gospel ("Look at the birds in the sky...Learn from the way the wild flowers grow").
A Franciscan Blessing of Pets – a popular custom in remembrance of St. Francis’ love for all creatures – usually goes 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 this pet. By the power of your love, enable it 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 creatures! Amen."
Francis never dreamed of the word, "Franciscan." As he hinted in thoughts on "Perfect Joy" -- which his early companion Leo wrote down -- following in the footsteps of Christ takes humility and sometimes suffering. Francis’ thorough trust in God’s provision led him to marry "Lady Poverty", eschewing the rich inheritance he would have received from his father’s textile business. Francis and his band of followers, the Friars Minor, chose instead to wear peasant’s tunics, serve the needs of lepers, restore ruined churches, and sing God’s praises, letting the whole world be their cloister.
Francis is revered as a role model and exemplar of peace by those of every nation and creed. In 1986 Pope John Paul II designated Assisi as the site of a multi-faith prayer gathering: "Day of Prayer for World Peace." In 1993 the Pope invited leaders of Christian churches as well as those from Judaism and Islam to attend "Assisi, on the Road to Peace" to pray for Europe and the Balkans, at that time engaged in conflict. Again in 2002 John Paul II invited more than 200 spiritual leaders to Assisi for prayer. The choice of Assisi for these gatherings and the response to the Pope's invitations are eloquent testimony to the power of St. Francis’ peacemaking.
With thanks for the contributions of Fr. Kevin E. Mackin, O.F.M., President of Mount St. Mary College.
To explore the ways that our animal companions spread gratefulness, you may wish to visit Angels and Animals.
For a partial list of blessings of animals around the United States, see the American Catholic website.