Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
From A Prayer Attributed to St. Francis, page 833 BCP
Here at St. Mary’s, and at countless other Episcopal churches, we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis on the Sunday closest to October 4th with the blessing of animals. While stories of Francis preaching to the birds are more likely legend than fact, Francis did believe humans are meant to enjoy nature and to be faithful stewards of God’s creation. Over eight hundred years after his death, there is no question that our pets are tremendously important to us. I remember during a Lenten program I participated in through campus ministry at the U of O decades ago, a desperately shy student commenting in response to a question having to do with expressing affection, “Well, I could say ‘I love you’ to my cat.” Indeed, many of us feel free to say all kinds of things to our pets that we wouldn’t dare say to another person. I know a man who in retirement takes his classically friendly golden retriever to the psych ward of his local hospital every week, where I’m told the entire atmosphere changes when Murphy enters the room. The unconditional love animals give us brings a sense of peace that some people are unable to find anywhere else, a peace, to quote the well-known phrase, that passes all understanding. No wonder we, like Francis, love animals. It seems that, sometimes at least, they can help us experience the unconditional love of God better than other people can.
Still, loving animals and being loved by them wasn’t enough for Francis, and it can’t be for us either. Above all else Francis loved God, and sought to bring God’s peace to the world. His prayer is a magnificent blue print for how to do that. It describes behavior devoid of judgment, not unlike what we receive from the most loyal of our animal friends. “Where there is hatred let us sow love, where there is injury, pardon;.... The prayer goes on to beg for the ability to set aside our own needs in favor of those of another: “Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.” When we’re able to do that, then we can accept that the utterly counter-intuitive conclusion of the prayer is absolutely true: “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."