Today, in honor of St. Francis’ feast day on October 4, a lot of spiritual institutions are sponsoring pet blessings. Depictions of the saint always feature him feeding birds, his statues often covered with their by-products. Some churches, like the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine up in Morningside Heights, New York, go all out– sometimes you’ll see camels and elephants waiting patiently in the nave along with weimaraners, kittens, and iguanas.
Blueie the lovebird turned eighteen months old on October 1, so he’s big enough to understand why I’m bringing him to the San Pedro Spiritual retreat Center in Winter Park for their pet blessing today. He reminded me of it, in fact, this morning when I took him out to play in the cool new air. “Don’t think you’re going to lay around reading all day with your bedroom door closed,” he said. “We’ve got an appointment today. And make sure my traveling cage is clean… I don’t want to be embarrassed in front of the good Fathers.” Conveniently forgetting that he alone is responsible for any messes inside his cage– after all, I would hardly fit inside)– he made sure I lined the bottom with wrapping paper printed with snowflakes, which necessitated a foray into a closet, and a lot of rummaging.
And so we set off.
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Naturally, I knew that the most popular animal would be The Dog, and The Dog was represented about fifty times, each accompanied by at least two owners. Then there was a turtle brought by one of the friars. And then there was Blueie: terrified, and very quiet lest he attract the attention of some much larger animal who would want to jump on his cage. He needn’t have worried– the dogs, like their owners, basically ignored us.
A song sheet was passed around (illustrated with a graphic of St. Francis and a dog) so that we could sing All Creatures of Our God and King, but I don’t sing; when I do, it sounds like a songbird has built a nest in my throat. Instead, I used the paper to keep the sun out of Blueie’s eyes. Then a prayer was read as a blessing toward the health and comfort of all the animals present, and then some, and then the friars mingled with the pet owners. The turtle friar asked my lovebird’s name, and I told him, and he cooed “hellooo Gloria! Hellooo Gloria!” Gloria? I thought I was supposed to be the deaf one.
Though frightened, Blueie was very well-behaved, unlike some of the other pets who insisted on sniffing one another’s private parts. And while Blueie demands affection, I personally would draw the line.