St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Bless Pets Sunday 2011
Rev. Joyce Avery

Today is one of the best days of the year.  I just love this day, especially, to bless our pets and all other animals.
One day a few years back, we had a black dog come into Church unannounced.  The back door was open and he just came in, he just looked around and he was escorted out.  Guess we decided not to bless him that day.
Well, today we honor St. Francis, the patron Saint of all creatures.  Do you suppose that people seeing everyone coming into the Church with their pets think something strange is going on?  It isn't strange to us; it's just thanking God that we have a pet to love and it loves us back unconditionally.  We are truly lucky.
Francis, whose feast day is really on October 4th but we celebrate his special day today, loved the larks flying about his hilltop town.  He and his younger brothers, staying in a small hovel, allowed themselves to be displaced by a donkey.
Francis wrote a Canticle of the Creatures (full text is at the end of this sermon), an ode to God's living things. "All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures."  Did you know that there are over 62 million cats in the U.S?  It attests to the continuing affection we have for our furry, feathered or finned friends.  We've even had a cat called Socks in the White House.  Other popular presidential pets range from Abraham Lincoln's Fido; President Roosevelt's Falla, Lyndon Johnson's beagles, named Him and Her, and even President Obama's daughters have a new dog, which I forgot it's name.
For a single householder, a pet can be a true companion.  Many people arrive home from work to find a furry friend overjoyed at their return.  That's the way it is at our house.  Melissa is so excited to see us when we've been gone just a couple of hours.  Many a senior's lap has a purring fellow creature.  They are so much company and fill the emptiness of being alone.
The bond between person and pet is like no other relationship, because the communication between fellow creatures is at its most basic.  Eye-to-eye, a man and his dog, or a woman and her cat, are two creatures of love.  No wonder people enjoy the opportunity to take their animal companions to church for a special blessing.  Church is the place where the bond of creation is celebrated.
At some churches, the Blessing of Pets is held outdoors, but you can never depend on the weather here so we just have it inside.  In a story I read it said that at St Stephen's Church in Manhattan, they always have the blessing outside, but it rained so they had to come inside.  It was quite a sight to see pairs of creatures--one human, one animal--sitting in the pews.  The pastor joined right in with his beagle, and replied, “Noah's Ark was never like this.”
Some people criticize the amount and cost of care given to pets.  People are more important, they say. “Care for poor people instead of poodles.”  And certainly our needy fellow humans should not be neglected.
However, I believe every creature is important.  The love we give to a pet, and receive from a pet, can draw us more deeply into the larger circle of life, into the wonder our common relationship to our Creator.
Now to relate some of Francis' history.  He was born in 1181 into a wealthy family; his father Pietro had a large fabric business and traveled a lot.  Francis was a constantly happy, charming, and a born leader.  He was loved by all, but that was too easy for him for his own good.  He became a leader of a crowd of young people who spent their nights in wild parties.  It took him a long time to settle down.  He was 25 when his life took a change and he spent more time in prayer, and he went off to a cave and wept for his sins.  Francis had many occasions when he felt closest to God, and felt that God was calling him.
One day, his search for conversion led him to the ancient church at San Damiano.  While he prayed there he heard a voice of God saying, "Francis, repair my church."  When he returned home, he took fabric from his father's shop and sold it to get money to repair the Church.  His father was so mad that he brought him before the Bishop and wanted his money back.  Francis gave the money back and also stripped off all his clothes that his father had given him, until he was wearing only a hair shirt.  In front of a crowd he said, "Pietro is no longer my father.  From now on I can say with complete freedom, "Our Father who art in heaven."”  From then on he spent his time in the wilderness.
In one famous story, Francis preached to hundreds of birds about being thankful to God for their wonderful clothes, for their independence, and for God's care.  The story tells us the birds stood still as he walked among them, only flying off when he said they could leave.
Another famous story involves a wolf that had been eating human beings in a small town.  Francis intervened when the town wanted to kill the wolf and talked the wolf into never killing again.  The wolf became a pet of the townspeople who made sure that he always had plenty to eat.
Years of poverty and wandering had made Francis ill.  He went blind and during his blindness he wrote a beautiful Canticle of the Sun.  It was made into a song called, "The Canticle of the Creatures."  Francis never recovered from his illness and died on October 4, 1226.  He was pronounced a Saint by Pope Gregory IX on July 16, 1228.  St Francis is the most revered religious figure in history.
On the special day of St Francis, at Franciscan churches, a friar in a brown robe with white cord often welcomes each animal with a special prayer—
“Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures.  You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land.  You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters.  We ask you to bless our pets.  By the power of your love, enable them to live according to your plan.  May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation.  Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures!”  AMEN.

The Canticle of the Creatures
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, honor and blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong;
no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
of You Most High, he bears your likeness.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
We praise You, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air,
fair and stormy, all weather's moods,
by which You cherish all that Yon have made.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.
We praise You, Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth,
who sustains us with her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.
We praise You, Lord, for those who pardon,
for love of You bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
by You Most High, they will be crowned.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Death,
from whom no-one dying can escape.
Woe to those who die in their sins!
Blessed are those that She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.
We praise and bless You, Lord, and give You thanks,
and serve You in all humility.