In the U.S. we have some 150 million pet dogs and cats and birds according to the census of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Birds, horses, rabbits and other animals contribute to the pet population. Pets and animals have become a focus for affection and kindness. Animals are used in pet therapies, as helpers to the blind, in drug enforcement and in seeking out earthquake victims. Once a year in Catholic countries it’s not uncommon to find a line of pets and farm animals at the cathedrals. They’re brought in by grateful owners on St. Francis of Assisi’s saint day for blessing from the local priest.
St. Francis is the patron saint of animals. He was known for his love of animals. Some six hundred years ago one of the friars recorded Francis’ sermon to a flock of birds. “My brothers, birds, you should praise your Creator very much and always love him,” he said. “He gave you feathers to clothe you, wings so that you can fly, and whatever else was necessary for you. God made you noble among his creatures, and he gave you a home in the purity of the air; though you neither sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without any solicitude on your part.”
Thomas of Celano recorded that the birds stretched their necks and extended their wings as Francis walked among them touching and blessing them. Francis also spent time with a hare during one of his long periods of asceticism and fasting. He wanted the governor to declare that the Christmas holiday would be a day of moratorium on killing any animals and also that grains and food should be placed along the roadside for the birds.
The animal blessings thank their animals for their help and companionship. No need to be Catholic to create a pet blessing day. Create a ritual of your own making by writing out a prayer of gratitude, a poem or prose to recite. Light a candle and have some treats available. Be creative and consider ways to say “thank you” not only to the pets, but also to the wild animals. I love to leave out sunflower seeds for the red house finches, gold finches, cardinals and chikadees.
Bio: Debra Moffitt is author of Awake in the World: 108 Practices to Live a Divinely Inspired Life. A visionary and teacher, she’s devoted to nurturing the spiritual in everyday life. She leads workshops on spiritual practices at the Sophia Institute and other venues in the U.S. and Europe. Her mind/body/spirit articles, essays and stories appear in publications around the globe and were broadcast by BBC World Services Radio. She has spent over fifteen years practicing meditation, working with dreams and doing spiritual practices. Visit her online at http://www.awakeintheworld.com.