Sermon: Blessing the Animals, especially our Pets: St. Francis of Assisi Sunday, 10/04/15
Blessing the Animals, especially our Pets: St. Francis of Assisi
Genesis 2:18-22 Psalm 104:24, 27-31 Matthew 6:25-33 10/04/15
Well this is a first for me – a blessing of animals and pets. We used to have cats: we named the black and white ones Minnie and the yellow ones, Sparky. I later found out that Minnie is the old medieval German word that Troubadours used for love. Our boys, after seeing Pinocchio, called our latest cat Figaro.
And back again to my family of origin, we had our neighbor’s dog, Rex. He belonged to our neighbor, but he always came to our door for some extra goodies. For Figaro we would buy cat food. Never did that before. Cats were supposed to catch mice. Neighbors I knew had white rats, Guinea pigs, and gerbils for pets. For me that would take some practice in expanding my acceptance, which I certainly did not have yet – like our neighbor Dickie Malo, who would search for garter snakes in rock walls and put a whole bunch of them down his shirt. No way! But in the science museum they let us touch a huge boa constrictor to show that it was not slimy. Its skin was like leather and beautifully marked, but I would not want a hug.
My father would tell a story about how a little dachshund saved his life. As a little boy he was going to school through a cow pasture and he did not realize that a nasty bull had been moved into that pasture. (Like our dogs coming to church, his must have been going to school with him.) The bull started chasing him and he was still far from the fence. The little dachshund bit the back legs of the bull and he turned around and chased the dog – and my father scrambled over the fence just in time. That dog should go to heaven for saving his life.
We had chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys when I was growing up and our poultry had a great life, because they could roam all around and we knew nothing of factory farms and little farm cages in which the birds cannot even move or turn around. Those poor creatures need their animal rights for sure.
We have responsibility for wild life too. A young hunter was trigger happy and he thought the more wolves he’d shoot, the more deer and voilá! Hunters’ Paradise! He shot one wolf and came up to it to watch a fierce green fire dying in its eyes and learned something new: the mountain, the environment, and those eyes told him he was wrong. This hunter, who was Aldo Leopold came up with a land ethic that included all life and even the environment, which he called the biotic community. This ethic included all creatures:
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it does otherwise.
We tend to exclude animals, the water and land from our ethics; but we have to include them and that means caring for animals in the wild, live-stock, but of course, especially our pets, our little companions, who can save our lives.
Our compassion and ethics have to include animals, include animal rights, and the humane treatment of animals, especially in scientific experiments as well. Pope Francis embodies that kind of compassion saying, “The Bible has no place for tyrannical anthropocentrism.” And he claimed that “Mary grieves for the sufferings “even of mistreated live-stock.”
Pope Paul VI once comforted a little boy whose dog had died, saying that he would see him again in heaven. And Pope Francis said heaven would be diminished if dogs didn’t also receive eternal life. His compassion and theology is not narrowly fixed on our species, excluding all but our own. And most of our ethics and theology has been centered only on us and has not concerned itself with animals, plants, water, land, and the whole environment.
Expanding our compassion that way could well become an antidote to the hatred some individuals have in our society in which we murder each other, do violence to women and children, and allow cruelty to animals. That fellow’s mother in Oregon should have bought her son a dog, rather than guns. Imagine allowing a fellow with Asperger’s, which she said he had on the telephone, to have an arsenal of 13 firearms with live ammunition!
We are celebrating St. Francis today who is said to have preached to the birds, befriended rabbits and fish, and tamed a wolf. (That’s where all our dogs come from.) He said, “We should preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Pope Francis, who named himself after the saint, wrote, “Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place.”
So according to the poet Cynthia Rylant, “God Got a Dog.”
I read the inside cover, which is incarnation in every-day language, and the last poem with the above name, “God Got a Dog.”
 Lisa H, Newton, Ethics and Sustainability, Sustainable Development and the Moral Life, (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003), page 20.
 Ibid., page 21.
 Nicholas Kristof, “A Pope for All Species,” New York Times 9/24/15, OP-ED page, A33.
 Cynthia Rylant and Marla Frazee (illustrator), God got a dog, (Beach Lane Books, 2003).