Yesterday was the feast day of St. Francis in the Episcopal Church, and many churches celebrate it with a Blessing of the Animals, in which parishoners and others are encouraged to bring their cats, dogs, and other pets along for a sometimes noisy and chaotic service during which — as the name of the ceremony itself explicitly makes clear — animals can receive blessings along with their companions. Yesterday Marilyn, Goldie, Billie, and I made our way uptown to the 5:00pm Blessing of the Animals service at New York’s St. Bart’s, where for a number of happy reasons we’ve been spending more and more time lately. Though we had to leave the rest of the menagerie at home, we brought photos, through which Biscuit, Max, and Thunder were duly honored.
The current Catholic Pope took his name from the Italian saint Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone (1181/1182–1226), informally named as Francesco and canonized under that name in 1228. Since then St. Francis has become one of the most beloved Christian figures in the world, noted particularly for his love of animals and his ascetic devotion to Christian ideals. During the service, we read aloud the “Prayer of St. Francis” — a prayer attributed to the divine, but most likely an early 20th-century composition, written in French and first published in 1912. (In 2013, Christopher Howse wrote about the prayer for the UK newspaper the Telegraph, describing a genuine prayer by Francis as well as that prayer’s own moving inspiration.) The 1912 prayer reflects the ideals that Francis represented, though, and they seem particularly relevant in our own divided time:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.