One of my favorite church days is the feast of St. Francis. It's the day that everyone gets to bring their pets to church for a special blessing. I've taken my dog, cats and birds on different occasions. I've seen pot bellied pigs and goats in the mix of chihuahuas, turtles and retrievers.
I don't really know a lot about St. Francis except that he gave up his life as the son of a wealthy Italian merchant and dedicated his life to the poor. For those who know about saints, Francis is the patron saint of animals - thus the special service.
There is a children's picture book I try to remember to read on this day. It's called The Day The Animals Came by Frances Ward Weller. The story is based on the real-life parade of animals that takes place every year on the 1st Sunday in October, at St. John the Divine cathedral in New York City. According to the author's note, this is the world's larges Gothic cathedral. On St. Francis Day "some 3000 people of all creeds and colors - and countless animals - come to celebrate the wonders of nature and the interdependence of all life on Earth in a joyful outpouring of prayer, dance, and music."
The Day the Animals came is about a little girl, Ria, who has moved to NY from her home in the Caribbean. She misses a lot of familiar things, but none so much as the animals. One day Ria's neighbor Mrs. Blum takes the girl on an adventure to the great cathedral. Once there, everywhere Ria looked there were all kinds, shapes and sizes of animals waiting to make the grand procession towards the altar. Ria is handed a duck, Groucho, and joins the slow shuffling forward. After being blessed by the bishop, everyone began to dance, making Ria feel part of a bigger family.
It is probably evident that one of the reasons I like picture books so much is because of the pictures. This book is illustrated by Loren Long. The drawings actually make me feel like I'm at the cathedral watching the parade of animals. They are quiet delightful.
I leave you with another of my favorites - the prayer that is attributed to St. Francis. As prayers go this one pretty much says it all. Just think where the world might be if we could all be instruments of peace.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
On this October day, I wish for you to know the peace of Brother moon and the love of Sister Sun.
The Day the Animals Came, by Frances Ward Weller, Philomel Books, New York