Rector's Note: Celebrating the Feast of St. Francis-10.5.23
As we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis this week, I’m reflecting on his example as we bring a new dog into our home. His name is Monty. He joined the family Monday, and he’s slowly getting used to us.
Dogs have been a part of our family for more than 25 years. Several weeks ago, I wrote my rector’s note about our dog Oakley, whose health was failing at the time. She died on Aug. 27.
Everyone mourns their pets differently. Some put off bringing a new pet into their household for a while or even indefinitely. Jess and I have found that we have relied on our dogs to help us cope with loss and tough times. We need to be walked twice a day. We are at something of a loss without a canine companion.
And so we began tentatively looking at dogs online. We filled out an application with Home at Last Dog Rescue last Friday. We stopped by a meet and greet on Saturday.
And that’s where we met Monty.
The man who was fostering him brought him to our home on Monday to meet our cat and check us out. He was extremely sad to say goodbye to this sweet boy. And Monty was clearly sad to lose his friend. The day that Montey joined our family, we received Oakley’s ashes from the vet.
Monty and Jess and I have been comforting one another. Monty comes with a story of loss that we can only guess at. He was on a euthanasia-list in a shelter in South Carolina before he was taken on by the rescue organization in Pennsylvania. His elbows have the callouses of a dog that has laid on too many hard floors in his short life. He flinches at new creatures – the cat, our kids. But he also warms up pretty quickly when given some space and some time. He crosses the street and reacts to cars in a way that speaks to some time fending for himself as a stray. He doesn’t like to be left alone.
I’m very aware of the role that our dogs have played as comforters and companions in my family over the years. Monty is reminding us that the role of rescue is also to provide a place of healing, patience, compassion and wonder for this dear one. Monty in turn is revealing a spirit of play and a desire for presence and accompaniment. He wants to be needed, but isn’t too needy, not unlike Jess and I. So far it is a good fit.
St. Francis is known for his care of animals and can sometimes be limited to that. We love that famous story of his brokering a piece between the wolf of Gubbio, and the frightened people of that town who had lost both shepherds and sheet to the world. The solution was that if the people of the town fed the wolf, the wolf would no longer terrorize the sheet. Beyond a love of animals, Francis reveals a love for the network of relationships that make up all of God’s creations. He is a steward of the interconnected web, a patron saint of relationships of mutuality and responsibility.
Rick Pearce, who will be preaching on St. Francis this Sunday, points out that human expansion often creates the situation where animals lose habitat and food sources, as with the wolf of Gabbio. Brokering peace with creatures affected by our own domination of the earth means acknowledging our own responsibility for our actions and those harmed by them.
The act of adopting an abandoned animal is often called rescue. It might better be called responsibility with maybe a side of repentance for systems that we are part of.
According to the ASPCA more than 6 million dogs and cats enter shelters in the United States each year. They are the product of abandonment in many cases, in other cases they end up there because people lose the capacity to care for them as they’d like. Of those shelter animals about 4 million are adopted each year.
This Sunday we will make space in our own liturgy to bless our dear pets. Some will be there with people, others will arrive as photos on cell phones, or in the form of beloved stuffed toys that behave well in church. We’ll bless them all, praying that God will strengthen the bonds of love and mutuality that exist between our pets and us, and that God will help us humans to be faithful stewards and worthy of companions of these dear family members.
Monty, who is still learning to trust people, will likely appear in photo form. I look forward to a time when I can bring him to St. Peter’s to meet the family here.