I was fortunate enough to be invited to a blessing of the animals at a friend’s church, a few years ago. Though a lifelong Christian, I had never even heard of this ceremony, which in itself is wonderfully simple.
It’s conducted in memory of St. Francis of Assisi’s love for all creatures. This saint had a legendary reputation for preaching to the birds, and once taming a wolf using only his words. I can imagine him walking, talking to the air (as he was rumored to do) and God quietly pulling up a stump to listen.
The outdoor ceremony is usually short and to the point. It involves each pet being blessed, as they are gently sprinkled with holy water. To impart a “blessing” is more meaningful than you might imagine. To bless the pet, by name, means that health and life are being guided by God to care for the animal. The blessing also brings a strengthening of its relationship with its human companion.
The blessing tends to spill over though, at least it did with me. Beyond the blessing the animal receives, the bond of all creation is celebrated. You can’t help but get choked up to see the families huddled around their kitty or dog, or in my case four little mice. It’s a stark reminder of just how blessed we are to have creatures to share the planet, and to share our lives.
The bond between humans and our companion animals happens at the most basic of all levels. They don’t love us because of the car we drive or whether we stuck to our last diet. We don’t love them because they clean up around the house or their coat is especially shiny. The bond goes beyond what can been seen and often even understood. Why do I never fail to smile, when my dog starts her loud snoring? Or my mice doze in a big heap in the corner of their enclosure? I think it’s God’s way of giving us a taste of the love He has for us, which also surpasses human understanding, even as we mess up each day.
The blessing of the animals is a perfect time to stop and count our blessings too. It’s a time to remind us of the beauty of God’s creation, His amazing creativity and humor, and His constant care for creatures that probably understand His true essence, as much as my dog understands the Wi-Fi coursing through our home.
If your church holds such an event, I encourage you to partake. I’d even suggest you “crash” another church to experience this ceremony. Taking part in this joyous occasion is just another way we receive comfort, from the critters in our lives.