Submitted by: Rev. Vanessa Monroe
When the consistory announced that Bethel would return to hosting its annual pet blessing, I did not give it much mind. It wasn’t happening right away and my mind has a way of compartmentalizing, prioritizing the milieu by date and difficulty. I can’t say that it registered at first that I would be the one doing the blessing. As such, the pet blessing was categorized for a later time, later place. However, as the weeks rolled swiftly by and the announcements for the pet blessing began to filter into our morning worship, this impending call to serve was gaining prominence in my mind. At some point recently, I became aware that I had not actually performed a pet blessing nor been witness to same. I did have a memory of someone lining up their pets and stuffed animals and preaching to them in their childhood. That pretend preacher was not me. Though I pretended to be many things as a youngster, a preacher was not one of them. No, that photograph lodged in my brain is either from a movie, novel or perhaps even from another preacher’s recollection. At any rate, preaching to and blessing animals is new to me, not part of my seminary studies nor ritual in the churches I’ve attended, and as such requires some research on my part.
Before I consulted GOOGLE on the history and ritual of blessing animals, my own brain pushed out some data buried deep in my archives. I am certain that this is why we are often surprised by the conversations of those with Alzheimer’s. My paternal grandmother, plagued with this disease, revealed much of her younger self, her thoughts, musings, with my sister and I as we accompanied her to doctor’s visits or errands. I am convinced that our mind-storage is enormous and a rested or even anxious mind can sometimes pull up information long forgotten. I digress. St. Francis Assisi. The name appeared from my mind archives as if I’d asked Siri for assistance. St. Francis Assisi. Wasn’t he the one who loved the animals? I believed it to be and then I immediately wondered why I knew this and what more I could recall.
Holy Name of Mary. I am almost certain that this information emanates from the Holy Name of Mary file folder in my mind – my formative depository of religious facts, my elementary school. I see a statue of St. Francis of Assisi with animals all around him. Perhaps a bird perched in his hand. Was it a picture in my schoolbook? Either way, I am certain the Oblate Sisters of Providence ensured that we knew this saint. It seems also that there is a later memory, perhaps from Loyola Hospital where I completed my clinical pastoral education (hospital chaplaincy) requirement. An actual statute perhaps? I knew this Saint. I know this Saint. Now for the research.
It turns out that my mind was correct. Biography.com reveals that St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and the environment. He was quite the reveler in his youth and had a conversion experience while imprisoned. Receiving a vision to rebuild the church and live in poverty, he did just that. Often thought to be a fool, “God’s Fool”, he had many followers who listened to his sermons and supported his work. He loved animals and the environment and was often found preaching to the animals. (And I thought preaching to teenagers was hard).
I am starting to get excited about this pet blessing, imagining that next year maybe it will include homeless pets and pet adoptions. That would be a blessing to the animals indeed. I better file that away for a later time, later place. This impending Pet Blessing is perhaps a return to innocence. (Picture child preaching to pets and stuffed animals here). Perhaps it is an acknowledgment of all creatures great and small. A knowing that God is concerned about all of God’s creation and a reminder to care for the animals, bless them. So join me. Bring your non-ferocious pets to Bethel UCC Church/Journey Retreat Center on Saturday at noon. Bring your children. Let them run and play and be, in this beautiful protected space just within the city limits. Give them this memory of caring for, blessing the animals. Send me tips on how to do this. Whisper a prayer for this novice pet blesser. Bare witness.
Until Faith becomes Sight,
Rev. Vanessa Monroe