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by David G. Duggan ©
Special to Virtueonline
September 26, 2023

I've never been a pet person. While I can withstand the allergens they carry I've never overcome my aversion to their messes. And in my rental building which keeps me from having to work for living, I forbid tenants from having pets. Sadly perhaps, that hasn't kept them from housing dogs under the guise of companion animals for medical or psychological conditions.

And I've never understood the modern church's fascination with Francis of Assisi and the rite of pet blessing. Even if a pet could understand the significance of some robed cleric intoning magic words perhaps while sprinkling some holy water, the ritual seems bizarre, perhaps pagan. Will baptizing pets be next? Years ago I earned a seminarian's undying enmity by telling her after a sermon extolling our "four-legged friends" that she was trivializing human friendship.

I have searched scripture in vain for any suggestion that the lower animals were to be accorded any status, either in the Kingdom on earth or the Kingdom of Heaven. In Genesis, God clearly gives Adam dominion over all the animals: beasts of the earth, birds of the air, fish of the sea, and those that creep. Adam names them and when he was done, God gave Adam a "help meet" formed from his rib, not some evolved anthropoid. Jesus used animal metaphors in uncharitable terms: the dogs who eat the crumbs under the table (Matt. 15:27), the fox who personified Herod (Luke 13:32), the wolf who scatters the sheep (John 10: 12). Whatever role animals play in our lives, be they companions, rescuers, food sources, or simply comic relief from the banality of our existence, they are not our equals.

Francis' taming of the wolf that had terrorized a town near his hovel is an oft-told tale of no significance. Even if it happened, so what? Wolves are the lineal ancestors of our canine companions, so the fact that this lupine succumbed to Francis' invocations proves only that God controls, not that we are beholden to the beasts who threaten our livestock and livelihood.

Francis may have ushered in a new understanding of the natural order. Beasts, fowl, fish and animals that creep may give us comfort and protein. But don't venerate either Francis or the animals he befriended. Jesus didn't die for them. He died for us.


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