Blessing of Pets and Animals

4 October 08 | Posted in Animals, Events, Saints, Spirituality

Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. It is a day when old and young bring their pets to church to be blessed. pg-bless.jpg

My old parish in Brooklyn got the usual (dogs, cats, hamsters, parakeets) and also the unusual. Someone once brought a wounded toad they found on their street.  Someone else brought their boa constrictor. A boy came with his pet tarantula. A toddler brought his teddy bear. The best was a praying mantis–very appropriate for a Catholic event.

“St. Francis was a lover of nature and animals,” said Fr. Moses Campo, a priest at the Immaculate Conception Church in Queens, New York. “The blessing of the animals has been a practice of the Catholic Church for hundreds of years.”

This rite can sometimes provided unintended comedy. “When I went to bless the horse with holy water, he jumped up and got scared,” said NYPD chaplain Msgr. David Cassato. “He thought I was going to hit him. Some of the police dogs start barking at the other dogs. It’s always funny.”

The Blessing of Pets usually goes like this: “Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth the fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.”

Roman Triptych: The Stream

24 September 08 | Posted in Arts and Letters, Spirituality, Vatican

Pope Benedict XVI may go down in history as the greatest papal advocate for the environment, but Pope John Paul II started things off. He made statements in support of creation, but his major contribution is his example–he loved nature, and found God there.

My favorite image of Pope John Paul II is a snapshot during a camping trip. A vigorous and robust man, he liked camping, hiking and relaxing outdoors. roman-trip.jpg

His nature experiences found their way into his poems. The Poetry of John Paul II: Roman Triptych: Medications begins with “The Stream.”

I. The Stream

Ruah

The Spirit of God hovered about the waters

1. Wonderment

The undulating wood slopes down to the rhythm of mountain streams.

To me this rhythm is revealing You, the Primordial Word.

How remarkable is Your silence

in everything, in all that on every side unveils the created world around us..all that, like the undulating wood, runs down every slope…all that is carried away by the stream’s silvery cascade, rhythmically falling from the mountain, carried by its own current–carried where?

What are you saying to me, mountain stream? Where, in which place do we meet? Do you meet me who is also passing–just like you.

Read the poem here.

Picking Up Litter

16 September 08 | Posted in Spirituality, Stewardship

One spiritual task I perform every weekend is to walk up and down my block and pick up litter. litter.jpg

Discarded cigarette packs, Arizona Ice Tea and beer bottles, Vitamin Water empties, junk food wrappers, styrofoam clam containers, candy wrappers, nickel and dime bags, ripped out school notes and assignments, half-eaten apples, broken Bic lighters, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cups, gum wrappers – I collect it all.

Most of the trash is from high school kids–boys and girls–black, Hispanic, and white, that are too lazy to put it in the trash can by their school.  They just drop it when they finish it.  Most of the crumbled up cigarette packs are from one Newport smoker.

I pick up trash to keep my block clean.  The dirtier it is, the more people feel free to throw stuff on the ground.  When the ground is litter-free, at least some people think twice before dropping an empty cup.

A few months after I started picking up, I noticed that some other people were taking care of the street, too.  My next-door neighbor has started picking up trash, and so has a woman down at the end of our street. 

Picking up litter is a small but tangible way to respect the land and neighborhood, and keep it a beautiful place.

Becoming Fully Ourselves

10 September 08 | Posted in Animals, Arts and Letters, Global Catholic, Spirituality

In his book, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis writes of a great journey through Heaven and Hell in a manner similar to Dante’s Inferno.  As they enter heaven, the visitor observes a woman enfolded in the glory of the divine energies surrounded by animals. The visitor is awed–thinking this is the BVM.

When he finally gets up his courage to ask the bus driver about the woman, the driver responds that no, this isn’t the BVM, but some humble woman who had rescued all of these creatures of God, and in her care, they became fully themselves. I would take Lewis a step further, in relationship with these animals, the woman also became more fully herself as well. They were her companions in prayer and life.

– From the blog, Bending the Rule

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St. Guinefort, The Sorceress & The Dominican Inquisitor

5 September 08 | Posted in Animals, Events, Saints, Spirituality

sacred-grove.jpgA Dominican friar, Etienne de Bourbon, was sent as an inquisitor to Sandrans, a small village north of Lyon. He relates his findings in the work, De SupersticioneIt was published in 1240 A.D.

One of the sections is called De Adoratione Guinefortis Canis, or, On the Worship of the Dog Guinefort. It relates the tale of the brave and loyal greyhound, Guinefort, or saves his master’s son from a snake who attempted to get into his crib. st_guinefort.jpg

Guinefort defended the baby and tossed the snake across the room. The snake bit the dog, and there was blood all over the dog’s head and nursery floor. The mother and the wet nurse came in to find the bloody scene. They screamed, bringing the knight in with sword drawn, who killed the dog.

Finding the baby safe and sleeping peacefully, they looked around for an explanation for all the blood. They discovered the snake dead and torn to pieces.

Realizing what really happened, and what they had done, the knight and women were filled with remorse and inconsolable regret. The dog was buried in a well, and his grave covered high with stones. Trees were planted around the site in the manner of a sacred grove.

The manor was abandoned by the family and the estate became wild land.

“The local peasants,” relates de Bourbon’s account, “hearing of the dog’s conduct and of how it had been killed, although innocent, and for a deed which it might have expected praise, visited the place, honored the dog as a martyr, prayed to it..” when their children were sick or needed help.

Infuriated to find “St. Guinefort” was a dog, the friar preached against his veneration. “We had the dead dog disinterred, and the sacred wood cut down and burnt, along with the remains of the dog.”

The tragic story seems to end there, but the French film The Sorceress (Le Moine et la Sorciere, 1987), written by Boston College medievalist Pamela Berger and directed by Suzanne Schiffmann gives it a new twist. the-sorceress.jpg

The premise of the movie is this: in a town near Lyons village people venerate Saint Guinefort, a greyhound who once saved a child from a deadly snake. When a Dominican friar repesenting the Church’s inquisition comes to town, he is outraged by what he sees as a mockery of the Christian institution of sainthood.

The friar destroys the grave of the holy dog and cuts down a tree nearby that the townsfolk believe to have healing powers. Later, however, he comes to regret his actions. As sort of a compromise with the villagers, the friar builds a chapel on the site of the sacred tree, and reinvents Saint Guinefort as a man-saint with a dog companion.

The shrine of Saint Guinefort continued to be visited for another 700 years, through the 1940s. Perhaps it still exists.