This article was originally published in the San Marino Tribune on October 7th, 2016.
We had great fun last Sunday at St. Edmund’s as we observed The Blessing of the Animals at an outdoor Eucharist. The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4th) is always a happy excuse to rejoice with our animal kin. The Close was lively with dogs on leash, bunnies in arm, cats in carriage, and stuffed animals dragged along the ground by tiny tots. No snakes showed up this year, and it’s been some while since I draped a yellow boa constrictor stole-like around my neck for a blessing. I’d like to meet that handsome critter again some future day!
Francis, the son of a prosperous merchant, determined to embrace a life of monastic poverty despite the intense opposition of his family. He advocated reform of the Church and care for the poor. The Franciscan Order he founded continues today in both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches.
Francis felt a particular affinity for nature, writing in his “Canticle of the Sun” about Brother Sun and Sister Moon, and he took a special interest in animals and in the created order. It is this aspect of his life that inspires our annual Blessing of the Animals.
In late September, the International Geological Congress met in Cape Town, South Africa and declared that, beginning in about 1950, humankind had entered ‘the Anthropocene Era.’ Following 12,000 years of stability following the last ice age, human civilizations developed and spread across a hospitable earth, now irrevocably changed by the very success of our species.
Signs of the Times occur near to home. The West Coast toxic algae bloom of 2015 closed fisheries from British Columbia to Southern California prompting Kathi Lefebvre of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to call it “an eye-opener for what the future holds with rising sea temperatures.” Dubbed “the Blob,” this vast bloom of domoic acid was the largest ever observed for its extent, duration and impact on mammalian sea-life, fisheries, and local economies.
The striking acceleration since the mid-20th century of carbon dioxide emissions, deforestation, sea-level rise and the mass extinction of species invites, this Feast of St. Francis, a vigorous assertion of an environmental spirituality. “At your command all things came to be,” we pray in one of our Eucharistic Prayers, “the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.”
Barring the success of Elon Musk’s quest to establish an outpost on Mars, this beautiful planet is the only one we have, given into our care and stewardship by a loving God. The two creations myths in Genesis say in poetry what we know in fact; that the conduct of our species is inter-twined with the natural world, and that we are summoned to act responsibly, proactively, and with diligence in the care of this fragile earth. As St. Francis wrote in his inspired canticle: “Praised be You, my Lord, by our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruits, colored flowers and wild herbs.”