“God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.”
The Book of Genesis
I am excited because I have been asked to bless the animals being cared for and about at the Cheyenne Animal Shelter. Animals need blessing. It’s a tough world for them. They are too often abused, hungry, horded and poached. Entire species are sacrificed for a few more barrels of oil. One should never walk by an animal without saying a quiet prayer.
The Blessing of the Animals has become a ritual event in many communities. It is often conducted in respect to the memory and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis is “the patron saint of animals.” He took the Bible seriously enough to believe when God entrusted the care of the animals to humans, we were given a sacred responsibility for their well-being.
A book telling of the Saint’s works is entitled The Little Flowers of St. Francis, in Italian the Fioretti. Included is a story with meaning for those who continue to wage political war on God’s beloved wolves. Long ago in the Italian village where Francis lived, there was a terrifying wolf who preyed on humans and animals alike. Caring for both animals and the humans of the village, Francis undertook to convert both. When he happened upon the ferocious wolf, the young priest called the animal “brother” and with the sign of the cross commanded the wolf to change his ways.
"Brother Wolf,” Francis said respectfully, “you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil. All these people accuse you and curse you but brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.” Francis led the wolf into the town, and made peace between the people and the wild beast. Each would agree to acknowledge the right of the other to exist as part of God’s creation. Because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger”, the townsfolk agreed to feed the wolf. For his part, the wolf would no longer prey on them or their flocks. As a demonstration of the acceptance of the animal as a part of the life of the village, Francis blessed the wolf as he had blessed the people before.
For much the same reason, we bless the animals amongst us. We do so in order to raise awareness of their special status among the Creation of God. They were as central to God’s hope for the world as we. Hungry and abused animals, disappearing species, the unsanitary conditions in which chickens and cows and pigs are slaughtered, the poaching of game animals and the hatred of wolves are as much a sign of the sinful nature of humans as any.
Know that the blessing of the animals is as much about us as it is them. It’s an occasion for humans to consider our sacred responsibility to care for and protect the most vulnerable of God’s creation. It is likewise a chance for the people of Cheyenne to thank the Animal Shelter for undertaking our community’s responsibility to provide for the abandoned and orphaned animals among us. Our blessing is for them as well as the animals entrusted to them.