St. Francis Day pet blessings will abound this Sunday. A note to priests: if you use holy water don’t say the wrong words and end up baptizing the neighborhood hounds. It’s a theological debate your bishop may not want to engage. A note to pet owners: although your dogs, cats, goats, whatever may appear at times to be possessed, please don’t ask your priest to perform an excorcism. We’re not allowed (without the bishop’s permission anyway).
In honor of the day, here’s the latest installment of my monthly In Good Faith column for the Hingham Journal. It’s also pasted in below. Enjoy.
By the Rev. Tim Schenck
My wife, Bryna, and I missed the whole online dating thing. When we were married in 1995, eharmony.com was not even a gleam in the Internet’s eye. I’m not complaining; I can’t imagine a picture of someone in a clerical collar gets many hits. But I do feel like I made up for it when we decided to adopt a dog four years ago.
When we finally caved in to our boys’ incessant lobbying for a dog we went where else? To the Internet. There were all sorts of pet adoption sites out there. So we narrowed our search to local shelters and rescue agencies and started “shopping.” Hundreds of pictures of all sorts of dogs came up along with accompanying descriptions. So you’d see an angry-looking pit bull with the comment “not good with young children” or a cute little beagle with the observation “mostly housebroken.” Never having experienced it, this is precisely how I imagine online dating works – pictures of people next to descriptions like “hates watching Monday Night Football” or “leaves the cap off the toothpaste.”
This process of online doggy dating quickly became a family affair. The four of us gathered intently around the computer quickly judging the dogs by their covers, or fur in this case. And when we saw the 1-year-old yellow lab/husky mix, we all knew this was the dog for us. After filling out an amazingly detailed application, we went to meet her and fell in love. She was gentle, sweet and starved for attention. We found out from her handler that she was saved from a kill shelter in South Carolina – literally a “dead dog walking” until Pet Rescue stepped in to live up to its name. And speaking of names, we chose Delilah. Or actually I did. Assuming I’d be the one outside yelling her name for the entire neighborhood to hear, I vetoed Zack’s suggestion of Chippy.
In early October many Christian churches honor the little-known St. Fido. Officially we celebrate St. Francis Day on Oct. 4, but in many parishes this is merely an excuse to bless pets. I’m not sure how St. Francis would feel about this, but he probably wouldn’t mind. His concern for all God’s creatures lends itself to the tradition. And it could be worse: at least his statues aren’t buried upside down to facilitate a house sale, ala St. Joseph.
Most pet blessings incorporate a wonderful blend of holy chaos – yelping dogs, skittish cats, hissing snakes. Precisely how I envision the hold on Noah’s ark, except with vestments. St. Francis Day pet blessings provide profound testimony to the value we place upon the animals with whom we share our homes. Pets can open our eyes to the divine qualities of love and compassion in the world. That’s really why we bless our pets in October. But you don’t need a pet to see that the human condition is full of surprising, loving encounters. We just need to open our eyes to the possibilities that surround us. There are lessons to be gleaned that transcend the superficial plane of our existence. They can be found everywhere – through our relationships (human, divine and canine) and in the seemingly routine events of our lives. If a cat or a dog or even a snake can point the way toward harmony among us, what better way to honor the legacy of St. Francis?
You may not be surprised to know that Delilah’s got me wrapped around her paw. She comes to the office with me, walks with the family down to Nona’s on a regular basis and is my faithful running partner. At St. John’s we’re holding a Blessing of the Animals on Sunday, Oct. 4, at 4 p.m., out on the church lawn. Come on by, bring your pet, and meet Delilah. She’ll be happy to give you a lick.
The Rev. Tim Schenck is Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist. Visit him on the Web at http://www.frtim.com where you can access his blog “Clergy Family Confidential.”