Today is the Feast Day of St. Francis. These days, we might be more familiar with this saint, since our current pope chose the name Francis. Many of us think of Francis as being kind to animals, but he was so much more. For more on that, see this post on my theology blog.
But today, my mind comes back to modern people and our pets.
When I was in elementary school, one of the most pressing theological questions concerned pets. Would they go to Heaven? I remember that it seemed like a pressing question.
Of course, I also worried about the unforgivable sin and the fact that various adults answered the question differently when I asked, "What is the unforgivable sin?" So, I will grant you that I was an unusual child.
When I asked about pets and Heaven, some adults brushed off my question by saying, "Of course not. Animals don't have souls."
I suspect that few adults today would go for that simple answer, at least the ones who share their lives with pets. We live in a time where people spend enormous amounts of money on their pets. Gone are the days when you'd spend a chunk of money for shots and that would be the extent of your vet bills for the life of the pet.
Lately, I've been thinking about the care we offer our pets and contrasting that care with the amount of care we give ourselves. I've known more than one person who cooked better meals for their dogs than they do for themselves. You can probably offer similar examples: humans who make sure that their pets see dentists, even when the human members of the family don't take care of their teeth, dogs who see therapists, pets who get wonderful treats that humans deny themselves--the list could go on and on.
I wonder how Francis came to be so associated with pets. I think of him as someone who looked out for the outcast of society as he cared for lepers. We don't think about the implications of that aspect of his life in the pet blessing services that many churches will have to celebrate the life of this saint.
But there's more. He gave up everything he owned--and he was rich--in a quest for a more authentic life. He inspired others to follow the same path, and he founded two religious orders that still thrive. I can't decide which impresses me more, the insistence on an authentic life, even if it cost him everything or his fierce commitment to community.
As we celebrate the life of St. Francis, will we hear these parts of the story? I doubt it. Those are the parts of the story that are threatening to the social order. We can't have young people behaving in the way that St. Francis did. What on earth would happen then?
Our society would be transformed.
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