One of my favorite television shows is The Vicar of Dibley, a British show about a female vicar of a small Anglican congregation in rural England. My wife, Deb, and I just saw an episode where the vicar decided to have an animal blessing service in the church building for the first time. The head of her church board was very opposed to the idea, but she went ahead anyway. The service was amazing, with people coming from all over the village, bringing cats, dogs, sheep, horses, rabbits, on so on. We got to do something like this on Sunday! Fortunately, our church board is completely behind having this animal blessing.
We are having the service in honor of St. Francis, whose feast day is at the beginning of October. Francis is one of the most admired saints around the world. People who have little to do with the church know about Francis. What is so special about Francis? Why to so many admire him? The pope took the name of Francis, and this action was really well received by all. Why is this?
I think that there are two aspects of Francis’ life that impress people. One of these is his simplicity. Francis grew up in the 1100s in a wealthy family. As a young adult, Francis decided to give up all his wealth and live a life of simplicity and poverty. This was not because he thought that all possessions were bad, but because he wanted to be free to focus on what was most important: love – love of God, love for other people, love for all creation. Pope Francis demonstrated this kind of simplicity when he chose to live in a simple apartment instead of the papal palace.
Jesus spoke about simplicity in today’s gospel lesson from Matthew (Matthew 11:25-30). According to Matthew, Jesus prayed to God the Father, thanking him that the things of the kingdom of God were hidden from the wise and intelligent and revealed to infants. This echoes Jesus’ teaching that we must become like little children to enter the kingdom of God. Little children have an immediate openness to God and to life around them. Our pets are also like this. Dogs and cats (maybe cats less so!) are direct and have no hidden agendas. With your dog, what you see is what you get!
The second aspect of Francis’ life that many admire is his love of creation. Francis called the sun and moon, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.” For Francis, the things of creation were not “out there” removed from him, but personal friends. Statues of Francis often have Francis standing with a bird on his shoulder, or a deer or rabbit near him. Francis loved the world and all of God’s creatures. There is something very engaging about his love of animals and the whole world.
Click here to view additional photos from this event in our Facebook Album.