17 October, 2012

Homily for the Feast of St Francis of Assisi - and blessing of animals 2012


Homily delivered on 30th September 2012
You, Lord, shall save both man and beast (Ps. 36)

Today we celebrate the (translated) feast of St Francis of Assisi. A few members of our congregation are themselves Franciscans, followers of St Francis rule of life and so today we want offer our Eucharist for the Society of St Francis, for the members of this religious order and for vocations to the Franciscan way of life.

However, today we are also here with some unusually furry members of the congregation to pray for God’s blessing upon them and to give thanks to God for their companionship.
In doing so, we walk in the example of St Francis who, inspired by God’s grace, referred to animals as his brothers and sisters, along with everything else in creation.

You, Lord, shall save both man and beast proclaims psalm 36 and yet we are still in need of groups such as the RSPCA, WWF, and many others, which do their best to awaken in us as sense of true stewardship of the planet, and of respect for other living things.
We consider ourselves modern indeed in our outlook towards other forms of life. However, on one hand, many people struggle to understand the intimate connection between our human nature and other living things. On the other hand, we look at our immediate past sometimes with disgust, believing that brute generations gone before us did only take advantage of animals, of their workforce, and of their actual flesh.

But was it really just so? If you are ever in London, on Park Lane, look out for one very unusual monument of war; a monument to the “Animals in War” which celebrates the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time. Although this monument was unveiled in 2004, the sentiment behind it springs from the stories and anecdotes of those who were aided in battle by these animals.

At that time, there may have been a sense that animals were mostly a means to an end, but there was also a sense that both they and humanity shared one thing, the precious gift of life, and life as God’s creatures at that.

If you were to look back to old book of blessings you would find blessing of all kinds related to animals and their needs. A specific one for cattle and sheep? Yes. One for animals on the feast of St Francis? On the feast of St Anthony? We’ve got them covered. You may also find a special form of blessing for bread and food to feed to your domestic animals.
Indeed, if we look back, the raised eyebrow that a pet service generates in some church environments would be considered ridiculous compared to what we used to do in the past.

Why don’t we do these things more often then? Well, I would argue that it is because we many people have lost the sense of what is like being a creature of God. We may be more gifted than animals (though judging by the behaviour of some of my college mates, I’d beg to differ) but we are nonetheless creatures of God. 
If we’d be able to rediscover what this means for our lives, we would be more thankful, more respectful of creation, better Christians; and we would be able, like St Francis, to refer to everything in creation as our brother or our sister.

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