Thursday, October 11, 2012
Last Sunday I was at St. Francis Church in Turlock, California, where they were celebrating St. Francis Day. I preached, and we then blessed a lot of animals: mostly dogs and a few cats. Pictured with me are Brother Simon and Brother Jude with Vanessa, our friary dog at San Damiano Friary in San Francisco. Vanessa is a retired guide dog, and absolutely the sweetest, gentlest dog you ever met. She sticks to Jude like a shadow. When he has to go out without her, she sits at the door and moans and whimpers. His return is a joyous moment--every time!
The Franciscan themes and values of peace and love is where the animals come into the picture of Franciscan spirituality. Sometimes it is only through our pets that we get any kind of loving. There is an amazing thing that happens with the animals we love—we suddenly realize we have something in common with them, a shared life! What a beautiful thing. Taking care of a pet is often a first step in learning to love and take responsibility for others. It’s a very holy relationship. Yet, if you don’t have a pet or don’t want a pet, that’s okay. This isn’t a guilt trip but an effort to help us all understand how loving creation is as simple as loving your pet. Loving anything opens us up to the mystery of love that has Jesus Christ at the center.
Franciscan spirituality is Jesus focused. He is the center of the Trinity, he is the Word made flesh. St. Francis used relationships with the animals to call people back to a renewed understanding of Jesus as the source of reconciliation and hope for the world. In the famous story of Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio, he calls the wolf "Brother" and makes a covenant with it: in exchange for the wolf's promise not to attack the people and their flocks and herds, Francis gets the people to promise to feed the wolf the rest of its life. Then he says to the people (in my own words): God sent you this wolf because of your sins, the separation between you and God. If you make this wolf your brother and truly love it, your own lives will be challenged and transformed. The very act of caring for the wolf will make you a more loving people!