On the feast day of St. Francis, many parishes celebrate with a Blessing of the Animals. But if this isn’t a tradition in your parish, here are some other ways to celebrate the day at home.
by Jerry Windley-Daoust
St. Francis is not the only saint who had a special relationship with animals—not by a long shot. But he’s the best known, and his reputation for connecting with all of God’s creatures, from birds to wolves, makes his feast (Oct. 4) a popular time to celebrate our animal friends, both furry and feathered.
Many Catholic parishes (and a number of Anglican and Protestant churches as well) celebrate a Blessing of the Animals. Here’s how our parish celebrated last year; living in a rural area meant that in addition to the usual dogs and cats, we had a couple of llamas and a donkey in the mix:
Celebrating with your parish is the best way to go (your kids will love seeing all the different animals!), but if your parish doesn’t have a Blessing of the Animals, here are some other ways to go:
- Bless your pets (or backyard critters) at home. The Blessing of the Animals web page offers the traditional blessing of the animals, as well as Scripture references to care for animals, and St. Francis’s sermon to the birds. Or you can use the official Order of the Blessing of Animals, or adapt it for your own use. Have one of your kids do the reading from the Book of Genesis. A wealth of other prayers, readings, and intercessory petitions for the care of creation can be found at the U.S. Catholic bishops’ website.
- Make a commitment to care for creation. The feast of St. Francis ends the month-long Season of Care for Creation; get practical ideas for enhancing your family’s commitment to environmental justice at the USCCB Environmental Justice website. (You can find a wealth of additional resources at our own Pray for the Care of Creation article.)
- Tell stories of the saints. Saint Francis of Assisi is an obvious example, but Ethel Pochocki proposes other animal- and nature-loving saints in her kid-friendly Once Upon a Time Saints series: Comgall (friend of swans and mice); Felix (friend of spiders); Hubert (protector of deer); Kentigern (brought a bird back to life); Martin de Porres (veterinarian and friend of animals, especially mice); Melangell(protector of wildlife, especially rabbits); Pharaildis (friend of animals, restored a dead goose); and Rigobert (befriended a goose). And that’s just a small accounting; you can add to the list St. Blase, who befriended bears, wolves, and lions, and St. Kevin, who is supposed to have befriended an otter, a blackbird, and even the trees; St. Hildegard, a skilled botanist; and even St. John Paul II, who as a priest took young adults on camping trips as a spiritual retreat. Indeed, St. Bernard of Clairvaux said,“What I know of the divine science and holy scripture, I learnt in the woods and fields”—a sentiment echoed by many other spiritual masters.
- Give Fido a bath…and a treat. Last but not least, encourage your kids to make it a special day for your pets, treating them as St. Francis would. That might mean cleaning out a cage, giving the dog a bath, or buying catnip for the cat. The pets may wonder what they did to deserve the extra attention…but more importantly, your kids will practice the virtue of showing love and compassion to all of God’s wonderful creation.