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October 1, 2017: Learning from St. Francis
Most Sundays, you’ll spot me at 11 a.m. in a pew near our St. Francis window. I think of it as my window, and St. Francis as my saint. I’m not alone: the humble 13th-century friar is the modern world’s most popular saint. St. Francis’s feast (which we’ll celebrate this Sunday evening with a Blessing of the Animals) leads me to reflect, as an adult, on my passion for animals that started in babyhood. How has it affected me spiritually?

by Kathy Ruffing

Most Sundays, you’ll spot me at 11 a.m. in a pew near our St. Francis window.  I think of it as my window, and St. Francis as my saint.  I’m not alone: the humble 13th-century friar is the modern world’s most popular saint. St. Francis’s feast (which we’ll celebrate this Sunday evening with a Blessing of the Animals) leads me to reflect, as an adult, on my passion for animals that started in babyhood.  How has it affected me spiritually?

First and foremost, love.  We form strong emotional bonds with our pets, and they reciprocate unconditionally.  Very early we turn to animals — stuffed or real — when humans disappoint us.  And from pets we learn lessons in responsibility and compassion.  Said Anatole France, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened.”

Second, appreciation for God’s creation.  When I see my cat jump effortlessly onto a high shelf, or a border collie herding livestock, or even a sparrow nesting in All Souls’ tower, I’m reminded of the amazing variety and adaptation of different species.  You don’t need to have a pet to benefit this way, but you do need to open your mind and senses.

Third, acceptance of death.  Many kids’ first experience of death involves a little funeral with a shoebox coffin and a cross made of popsicle sticks.  Later on, our pets’ decline and death leads us to think of our own mortality.  I’ve grieved many pets, admired their calm acceptance, and thought hard about the distinction between length of life and quality.

St. Francis lived in medieval times but I bet he’d vigorously agree with what science tells us about the benefits of having animals in our lives.  Dogs help traumatized veterans readjust to civilian life.  Stroking a dog, cat, or rabbit lowers your blood pressure.  Pediatricians and researchers even posit that early exposure to some healthy dirt and animals boosts our immune system, the so-called “hygiene hypothesis.”

All Souls welcomes everyone — human and animal — to its annual Blessing of the Animals in honor of St. Francis.  Come to the front lawn this Sunday, October 1, at 5 p.m.  Bring your pets on a leash or in a carrier.  Some pets (particularly cats!) might prefer to be represented by a photograph or favorite object.  This short, annual service honors the bond between humans and animals and gives thanks for those who have graced our lives, past and present.

Last Published: September 28, 2017 2:26 PM
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