Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Friends and Parishioners of Saint Jerome,

Pax Christi semper vobiscum!

We traditionally commemorate the memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi on the 4th of October. But since the day falls on a Sunday this year, the liturgical calendar prioritizes the Sunday liturgy over the saint’s commemoration unless there is strong pastoral reason that the Mass proper of the saint is celebrated. In any case, we will be blessing our pets after the noon Mass this Sunday. It is always a fun thing to do a pet blessing, especially when our children carry their little birdcages, a gerbil, a small fishbowl, as well as their dogs and cats. Just make sure that you have a well-sealed cage if you are bringing a snake! You, no doubt, realize that Saint Francis is primarily associated with animals. At times, our knowledge of his contribution to the historical renewal of the Catholic Church is often limited by his association with animals and Mother Nature. Those are good associations with Saint Francis.

We know from anecdotes and legends that he tamed the wolf of Gubbio that made him famous during his time and made him also well associated with animals. The Canticle of the Sun, one of his most famous poems demonstrated he was fully in tune with Mother Nature as he addressed “brother sun” and “sister moon” as if they were physically his co-existents. We are fascinated by the representations of art and music wherein our imagination is elated whenever we see a man in a brown religious habit surrounded by birds and butterflies. But, can we give more justice to the reasons why Saint Francis is being considered as one of the greatest men in the history of the Church? Where we are short-sighted at times is the way that Saint Francis lived his call very diligently in serving God.

We are fascinated to see images of Saint Francis in the middle of the forest with nice pine trees (which was a typical landscape of Assisi), wearing his brown religious habit. Yet we have not investigated what that habit was made of, for after all, we can only see the pious illustrations of the friars walking or working in the fields. Those habits were made of potato sacks or burlap. They must have been extremely uncomfortable–itchy during the summertime, and perhaps pretty cold during winter.

Saint Francis’ decision to live Evangelical Poverty and his willingness to denounce all worldly allurements was heroic. We know that his way of life is no longer appealing to our generation today, as the culture of consumerism and hedonism promotes pleasure for its own sake and materialism as an end. Saint Francis’ loyalty to God’s mission brought him to the heart of the Church that made the Franciscan Order that he founded impactful in its advocacy for the poor and the disenfranchised. So, yes, there are a lot more things to remember about Saint Francis, and we are challenged to follow his lead according to our own circumstances in life.

Could our care for our pets be transcended by a deep concern and care for the poor and the homeless as well? Would it be just to neglect the poor and the less fortunate while we spend hundreds of dollars on the care of our animals? I think this is what it means each time we bless our pets each year. We are challenged to consider that blessing our pets is also a way to remember to share our blessings with those who are in most need. This is to say that while we value our relationship with the small creatures that God created, we ought to value also our relationships with our fellow human beings as our equals both in identity and dignity, especially the poor and the less privileged.

There are plenty of Christian values that we can learn and imitate from Saint Francis. So, I encourage you to explore his life, that your knowledge of him will not be associated simply with a nice bird bath with his statue in a garden. Most importantly, it is his intimate relationship with the Lord that made him “one” with Jesus Christ as he received the stigmata, i.e., the same wounds that Jesus had when He died on the Cross. Yes, when we choose to be spiritually intimate with the Lord, then our pet blessing has reached its end. I bet you that Saint Francis would be so proud of us if we were to do just that.

I shall see you next weekend.

Sincerely in Christ and Mary,