St Francis

by Melissa Taft
St. Francis Icon Abbey

by Elaine Breckenridge, featured photo Dancing Monk Icon by Marcy Hall and © Abbey of the Arts, used with permission

Since his death in 1226, and his canonization in 1228, the legacy of St. Francis lives on. He is so compelling that you can walk into any number of home improvement stores or plant nurseries, and buy a statute of his likeness for your garden. He is associated with all of creation, the elements and animals. This contemporary icon of Francis pictures him with a fox, a salmon and a bird. 

Francis is famous for saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” He did just that at a cathedral on Christmas Eve, 1223. Francis brought in a donkey, sheep and cows; a manger, a newborn baby and a young woman and man, and set up the first living nativity scene in history. It was the forerunner to the Christmas crèche–still enacted in Christmas pageants and a sacred commodity that can be purchased in numerous places.  

On that Christmas Eve, Francis was making a not-so-subtle statement. For Francis, the world looked like the Garden of Eden. Remember that the church in the time of Francis believed that creation itself was sinful and evil. The perspective of Francis was radically different. By bringing animals into the church, he made it clear that creation itself was and is sacred. All things, whether living or inanimate, reflected God the Creator’s love and were thus due reverence and wonder. 

In this spirit many Christian Churches have practiced gathering people and animals together around the time of the Feast of St. Francis to bless both pets and animals. Perhaps many of you will have an opportunity to take your pet to church for a blessing. Some churches invite people to bring their pets right into the building for the church service. Some do not. Many churches hold their pet blessings before or after the regular church service and it can be difficult to leave a pet in the car for that length of time. Or perhaps you own farm animals and they are bit more difficult to bring to church. Or perhaps you are not a member of a church community that offers a blessing for animals.  

I wonder, why not offer a blessing of your pets and animals at home? One does not have to be an ordained minister to bless animals. St. Francis was certainly not.

Francis is so revered as a Saint that many forget he was never ordained a priest or bishop in the Roman Catholic Church of his time. He founded a religious order and the lay people took vows, but Francis always considered that the world was his monastery, not the walls in which he lived and prayed. On the icon pictured above, the words “The world is my monastery” are attributed to St. Francis.  (Christine Valters Paintner, Illuminating the Way, Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics p. 3) It was only after his death that the Franciscan Order came under the full authority of the church. 

In the spirit of St. Francis, I hope you will have some opportunity to have your animals blessed at church or at home this week. And if you need some words for a ritual and blessing at home, I offer a liturgy that I have put together for your use. 

Think of it as a template. It is meant to be flexible and can be used by an individual, or in a community with a designated or shared leadership. It is intentionally brief keeping in mind that a gathering could include many animals and children! And yet it can be shortened or lengthened if you have elements that you would like to add. You have my blessing to use it in any way you wish. But, I ask you not to publish it as I plan do to so in the future.  

Of course, there are other ways to celebrate the life of St. Francis. If you do not own a pet, you may choose to bless a beloved plant or favorite tree. You could watch a sunrise or sunset in his name or take a contemplative walk giving thanks for the elements, the landscape and all that you see on that walk.

However we may choose to celebrate the life of St. Francis, may we remember that blessing creation, is to name it as good. As we do so we express our gratitude and love for God, the Creator of all that is. 

*  *  *


Glorious God, we give you greeting! 

Let Sister Earth and Brother Sun praise you

Let the fields and forests praise you

Let the birds and beasts praise you 

Let everything that has breath praise you, 

Mother and Father of all that has being.   

     – A Holy Island Prayer Book by Ray Simpson p. 37 


A Reading from the Book of Genesis  

God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So, God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind and the cattle of every kind and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:20-24)

Reader: Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s People.

People: Thanks be to God.


A Reading from the Christian Tradition  

If I were alone in a desert and feeling afraid, I would want an animal to be with me. For then my fear would disappear and I would be made strong. This is what life in itself can do because it is so noble, so full of pleasure and so powerful.  Therefore, let those who bring about wonderful things take an animal to help them. The life within the animal will give them strength in turn. For equality gives strength, in all things and at all times.    

     -Meister Eckhart, “Benediction for the Animals,” in Earth Prayers, p. 253.

Reader: Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s People.

People: Thanks be to God.
Individual blessings may be offered over each animal and it may be touched if appropriate using these words: 

“Peace be with you, my friend.”   

When all the animals have been blessed, the people may say to one another,  

“Peace be with you, my friend.”   


Final Prayer of Blessing   

Blessed are you Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the seas, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We give you thanks for all these animals and those who care for them. By the power of your love, enable them and all of us to live in peace. Amen.                         

Glory to you, O God for all of your creation. May we sing your praises and give you thanks forever. Amen.                                

© The Rev. Elaine H. Breckenridge 

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1 comment

scotsirishpadre October 4, 2022 - 4:42 pm

This is beautiful, Elaine! A blessed feast day to you and yours ?

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