The Life of St. Francis of Assisi
October 4 is the annual St. Francis of Assisi festival during which time Catholics around the world partake in a ceremony that is called the Blessing of the Pets. The custom has been around for many years and is a remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi’s love for all creatures.
St. Francis of Assisi (and his current namesake, Pope Francis) is a bit of a hero to us. Not only for his work for animals, or overcoming the crowds who bullied him for his beliefs, or his “bad boy” status growing up and eventual denouncement of luxury, but because he followed his heart and he never let anything stop him in realizing his goals for animal welfare.
Here’s a little more about St. Francis and his life…
Francis started out as a “Bad Boy”…
Born in Italy, circa 1181, St. Francis of Assisi was known for drinking and partying in his youth. It took some time before sainthood was achieved!
The original St. Francis spent a year in prison after being captured and imprisoned, and it was during this time he began experiencing visions from God.
Upon his release from prison, Francis heard the voice of Christ who commanded him to repair the Christian church while living a life of poverty. And so, despite coming from a wealthy family and being accustomed to a life of riches, that is precisely what he did.
Later in life, Francis reportedly received a vision that left him with the stigmata of Christ—marks resembling the wounds Jesus Christ suffered when he was crucified—making Francis the first person to receive the holy wounds of the stigmata.
He was bullied as he preached to animals.
Francis pushed himself continuously in the quest for spiritual perfection, and was soon preaching in up to five villages per day, teaching a new kind of emotional and personal Christian religion that everyday people could understand.
He even preached to animals, which garnered criticism and earned him the nickname “God’s fool.” But Francis’s message was spread far and wide, and thousands of people were captivated by what they heard.
Giving up his hotel room to a donkey
You may remember the legend of the Wolf of Gubbio, (and if you don’t remember, check it out – it’s a wonderful tale!). There are other stories, many stories of his service to animals, as well.
It’s said that he once stayed in a small hovel and when a donkey arrived and had no shelter, Francis turned over his room to the beast. Some regarded Francis as a madman, others as a fool, but his 12 followers soon ballooned into millions and he has since been historically recognized as one of the greatest examples of how to live the Christian ideal since Christ himself.
The Canticle of the Creatures
Francis is most well known for writing Canticle of the Creatures, which is an ode to God’s living things. The Canticle was composed in the Umbrian dialect and contains three sections:
- a praise of God for the creatures (sun, moon, stars, wind, water, fire, earth)
- a praise for those who forgive for the love of God
- a praise for sister bodily death
Inspiring Animal Lovers Around the World
His beliefs touched many, including one St. Clare, to canonize animals (and in the case of Saint Clare, her cat) in writing…
Did You Know: The dog is mentioned 44 times in the bible (35 times in the Old Testament and 9 times in the New Testament). Horses are mentioned approximately 150 times. Lions are mentioned often, as well as many other animals. In fact, everything from oryx to buzzards are mentioned in the bible, however, domestic cats are never mentioned. We believe it is due to a translation error. What are your thoughts?
Saint Clare and Her Cat
St. Clare shared the ideals and sufferings of St. Francis. She believed that all living creatures deserved respect, love and protection. During her time on earth, on a celebrated occasion in 1241 she repelled the looting soldiers of Frederick II, and protected the city of Assisi with her prayers, and she wrote many letters. While the letters that remain are not particularly revealing, they are formal in style and they abound in flowers of speech.
Her canonization of a favorite feline was documented in one of her letters when she ordered a cat to bring a towel across the room to her and “not drag it on the floor like that.” This is just further proof of the personification of animals.
She had a love of flowers, a custom of pulling a blanket over a sleeping nun, and the well authenticated incident of the bedridden abbess about her cat. She was an ardent, determined girl who developed into a commanding yet exquisitely gracious figure. She died on August 11th, 1253, and on the morrow Pope Alexander offered the white mass of virgins in her honor. She was canonized in 1255.
The Moral of the Stories
Do what you know is right. Believe what you want. No matter how many people call you crazy for believing animals have souls , or emotions, or as much of a right to exist as humans, just keep doing what is right.
You may be well on your way to gaining sainthood…