Today we celebrate the life of St. Francis. Many congregations will do this by having a pet blessing service. Here again, we see a powerful life story reduced to something significantly more mundane. I would argue that the church almost always does this reduction act--and why? Why give up the power of these stories that way? We see that in our approach to Jesus Christ, and in our approach to every other believer who has a dramatic story. Are we afraid of the implications?
We often remember St. Francis because of his work, "The Canticle for the Creatures." Many people see him as one of the early environmentalists. I have no problem with animal rights crusaders and the environmental movement, but it's important to remember that St. Francis spent many years of his early ministry living with lepers and caring for them. He gave up everything he owned--and he was rich--in a quest for a more authentic life. He inspired others to follow the same path, and he founded two religious orders that still thrive (and one that has vanished). In his later years, he worked to end the Crusades. He also created the first Nativity scene, and he used live animals, so that visitors to the scene could more fully use all their senses.
In churches that celebrate the life of St. Francis, will we hear these parts of the story? I doubt it. Those are the parts of the story that are threatening to the social order. We can't have young people behaving in the way that St. Francis did. What on earth would happen then?
Our society would be transformed. And one of the ways that Christians have let down their faith, this is one of the most damning: we dampen the transformative message of the Gospel or we dumb it down into some sort of self-help drivel. The Gospel can transform us as individuals, sure, but then we are called to go out and transform our societies. God has called us to do redemptive work.
So, on this day when we celebrate the life of St. Francis, let's consider how we treat our pets and how we treat our modern-day lepers. I'm willing to bet that the community in which you live, pets are treated much, much better than lepers. Think about how your church would react if someone brought their pet dog or cat to church. Now think about how your church would react if a drunk, smelly, raggedy person walked in.
Lately, I've been thinking about the care we offer our pets and contrasting that care with the amount of care we give ourselves. We often do no better at taking care of ourselves than we do of taking care of the poor and outcast of our society. I've known more than one person who cooked better meals for their dogs than they do for themselves. You can probably offer similar examples: humans who make sure that their pets see dentists, even when the human members of the family don't take care of their teeth, dogs who see therapists, pets who get wonderful treats that humans deny themselves--the list could go on and on.
Why is it so hard to achieve balance in our societies? Why can't we take care of the destitute in the same way we take care of our pets? Why does self-care often fall to the bottom of our to-do lists? Why do we practice self-care and then not do the larger work of caring for the world? Why do so many of us care for creation so badly or not at all?
As we think about the life of St. Francis, let's think about the wealth that we have and the ways that we can share it. Let's think about the earth and the ways we can care for our patch of the planet. Let's think about all the voiceless members of our society: plants, pets, children, the destitute, the elderly.
Here's a prayer that I wrote for today:
Creator God, we don't always take good care of your creations. Please give us the generosity of St. Francis as we wrestle with the best way to use our resources. Please open our hearts the way you opened the heart of St. Francis so that we can take care of the members of our society who are at the lowest levels. Please give us the courage to create communities which will allow the light of Christ to shine more brightly.
feeling the feelings…
9 months ago