Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
October 3rd, 2009

For the Love of Saint Francis!

Making my peace with the blessing of the animals

 
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If you’ve ever seen dog owners walking to church with their pooches in ridiculous outfits, sprayed with doggie perfume and a bow in their fur you’ve stumbled upon the annual “blessing of the animals” on the Feast Day of St Francis, October 4. In years past I witnessed one woman’s dog in a top hat and tails. Another dressed in a doggy business suit. A third looked like a clown (both dog and master).

I couldn’t help but laugh to myself when I overheard conversations in the pews about how smart their silly mutt was and how much love they received coming home to the wagging tail that greeted them at the door. Owners shared recipes about what they cook for their pets, talked about what they’ll dress them up for on Halloween and even celebrated their animal friends’ birthdays complete with party hats and a big bash.

Reveling in all of this canine eccentricity seemed odd to me until I visited a Franciscan friend of mine in upstate New York the day before last year’s blessing of the animals.

“Mike, just wait until tomorrow. You’ll see sheep, and cats, and snakes, and ferrets besides the dozens of dogs that will make their way here. I swear the second coming of Christ could be happening and if someone else did a prayer service across the street with animals, more people would show up for that!”

St. Dolittle?

St. Francis is always associated with animals. Legend has it that he was so gentle that the birds would come to rest on his shoulders. I’ve never really cared that much for that saccharine image of Francis—the one that adorns many gardens with the birds and chipmunks. After all, this was the same man who renounced his family’s wealth to live a life of radical poverty, famously standing naked in the street, after throwing his cloak at his father who didn’t want Francis to become a religious.

But what I love most about Francis is his commitment to peace. In 1219 Francis visited Egypt and the sultan, Malik al-Kamil. He expressed a desire for peace at a time much like our own—when brutal violence was being carried out in the name of religion. He was listened to with goodwill by the sultan who nearly converted to Catholicism had he not been fearful of his people’s reaction. Francis sought peace not only in the world but also within himself.

Man’s Best Friend

We all could use a little of this peace. Perhaps this is why our pets are so beloved. Recently, my wife and I adopted a cute little Chihuahua from a local shelter. As I held him in my arms for the first time a sense of calm came over me.

“Does he have a name?” I asked.

“Um, yeah, Haze!” the shelter worker said.

“No-no…that’s my name…I mean the dog’s name.”

“No sir. That is the dog’s name.”

“So if I adopt him his name will be Haze Hayes? I’ll take him!”

“That’s not a bad image for the way God loves us: quickly forgiving and wiping (licking?) the slate clean.”

He licked my face that first day and got me to love him. More recently he’s taken to licking my bald head while I sit on the couch and watch TV.

Besides the unconditional love Haze offers at the door each time I arrive home (and the soggy skull), I’m often struck by how much Haze is turning me into the sort of pet owner I used to mock.

One day while putting on his harness I caught a piece of his skin in the clip. He yelped loudly and wouldn’t let me try to open the clip to ease his pain. After some struggle I finally got it open—much to Haze’s relief.

A Lick in Time

I felt so horrible for hurting my defenseless little friend that I sat on the couch and cried. Almost immediately on seeing my tears Haze leapt into my lap, looked me in the eyes and licked my face, head and ears like he never had before. Some would say that it was because my tears taste good but I think Haze was letting me know that I was forgiven. Weeks later I accidentally stepped on his back paw and he did the same thing.

That’s not a bad image for the way God loves us: quickly forgiving and wiping (licking?) the slate clean. Nearly 2 years old, perfectly housebroken (well, almost perfect) Haze reflects a bit of God’s mercy to me—his schlub of an owner, in all of his imperfectness—and only longs to get a belly rub from his best pal.

Today, we celebrate Francis—a man known for peace. His words remind us that we all need to forgive easily and without hesitation. In a world gone mad with violence his words are worth repeating here today.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

As far as I’m concerned Haze Hayes is a Chihuahua-sized instrument of peace. And if that’s not worth blessing today—then I don’t know what is.

This story was originally published on October 4, 2007.

 
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The Author : Mike Hayes
Mike Hayes is the senior editor for the Googling God section at BustedHalo.com.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Donna Dreyer

    Thanks for your great story. I just found the website and I share my home with a westie and a yorkie (who was a rescue) and a great cat. They keep me going and I know exactly how you feel about Haze. Unconditional love is all they know. Thanks again!!

  • Warren P.

    Check out the article on wikipedia about that prayer.

    Warren

  • Mike Hayes

    Thanks for the kind words, everyone. Amie, my dog, haze, really doesn’t like other dogs either. And when I took him to one parish’s celebration he was also quite peaceful and quiet. Amazing.

    Of course when I took him to another one that was outside he wouldn’t stop barking either! =)

  • Barbara Martin

    Phil, thanks for the information. I first learned this prayer around 1965–it was printed on the paper book covers we were given to protect our text books. (Obviously, this is long before stretchy book covers were introduced). The front of the book cover had the standard depiction of St Francis with small animals and birds, but that was not nearly as arresting as the flow and symmetry of the words in the prayer on the back. There must have been a sponsor or advertiser listed, but I didn’t notice it. It is still one of my favorite prayers.

  • Phil Fox Rose

    Barbara, I think this is a case, as is common in classical writing, of something being attributed to the great historic figure whose values and inspiration it is based on.

    To the best of my knowledge, the prayer was written by a Catholic priest and published anonymously in France after World War I. It spread gradually and was often found stamped on the back of St. Francis prayer cards. This led to the confusion when it found its way to America, and this was then solidified when Francis Cardinal Spellman picked it up and promoted it with the attribution to St. Francis.

  • Barbara Martin

    just following on the post about the authorship of the St Francis Peace Prayer–then who actually wrote it? Or does anyone know in what century and language it first appeared? Thanks.

  • Julie

    Hey, I am a pet lover too. My dog Curley is my best bud. Just wanted to point out that the Peace Prayer you quoted was not written by Francis, it’s a common misconception. I guess I had to learn something after 4 years in a Franciscan High School and 4 years in a Franciscan University right?

  • Donetta Poisson

    What a wonderful story and a great way to remember God’s blessings. I have 2 adopted dogs that are my life. Sometimes, they can drive me to the brink (they are Jack Russell mixes). But, when I come home and they shower me with love & doggie kisses, the stress of the day disappears. Unconditional love: always.

  • amiehartnett

    I adore my pets and, like you, I am often amazed at the unconditional love and loyalty they display for my family members and me.

    What amazed me when I took my fiercely protective (of me) Scottie dog, Megan, to a St. Francis day blessing a few years ago was that she did not bark at any of the other animals. In fact NONE of the dogs barked at one another or otherwise *misbehaved.* The only noise Megan made was howling along with the hymns! There was definitely something special happening there on that day.

    Good for you for adopting a shelter dog – I hope you and Haze are blessed with many happy years together.

  • Ginny Kubitz Moyer

    Mike, I’m loving this article. I’m not currently a pet owner, but it reminds me of past animals in my life, and what those relationships taught me about unconditional love.

    My 90-year-old grandma is a huge animal person. She’s not online, but she will be getting a printed copy of this article in the mail. She’ll love it.

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