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“Sit, Natasha!”  Please, please behave here I said to myself silently after coaxing her to sit down.

Excitement and energy filled the air on the church lawn this bright sunny morning. It is tradition at this particular church to have the Blessing of the Animals as part of the main service on the Sunday near St. Francis Day. The service is held outside, on the large lawn. An altar is set at the front; metal chairs in rows are arranged for the congregation, choir and acolytes. The congregation on the day I’m writing about included dogs of many sizes and shapes, their humans holding onto their leashed canines with care. Small carry cases sat safety on their human’s lap, containing cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, or a ferret; a child held tightly to a bowl with his pet turtle inside.

It was Natasha’s first Blessing of the Animals Day, and we weren’t sure how our newly rescued sweet, gentle yet very energetic six-year-old lab would behave among all these people and pets. Well, we kind of had an idea, which is why my young teenagers and I had brought her to an empty row of seats in the back. On walks at home, she was the mayor – greeting everyone and every dog we met; she wanted to do the same here but the service was starting.

Through the background noise of barks and dog movements, the service continued. An amazing thing happened at the consecration of the bread and wine: the animals became still and quiet. “Sanctify them by your holy spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son…” was heard clearly by all. The animals remained quiet through the Lord’s Prayer. They got excited again when it was time to go up for their blessings, but the timing of their quietness was amazing: animals spiritual?

The Blessing of the Animals service is held in remembrance of St. Francis’ love for all animals. St. Francis of Assisi is known as the Patron Saint of animals and the environment. His feast day is observed October 4 each year in the Anglican, Lutheran and Catholic churches. Blessing of the Animals services are held at many of these churches and all are welcome.

stfrancis w animals

St. Francis’ love of animals is told through many stories of his kindness toward them: the rabbit he rescued from a trap, the fish he was given to eat but he set it free instead, the pet lamb that loved him and followed him around, the birds he sang to and the wolf he tamed.

Francis was born in 1882 in Assai, Italy and lived the lavish life of the son of a wealthy merchant. As he matured, his encounters with beggars and lepers helped him to decide to devote his life to ministering to the poor. Over his father’s objections, Francis renounced all material values. He founded three religious orders, including what we now call the Franciscans. Francis died on October 3, 1226 and was canonized by Pope Gregory IX on July 16, 1228.

Francis wrote a Canticle of the Creatures, an ode to God’s living things. “All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.”

© Diane L. Neuls DeBlasio 2013

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“No Bone!”  the words on the bandage covering Mom’s head were the first thing my eyes were drawn to as she lay heavily sedated on the hospital bed in the CCU. Eyes then scanned down to her face, to the ventilator and feeding tube, to the IV lines connected to her neck and each arm – twelve medications dripping into her body. The hospital room noises were jarring: loud swooshes of the ventilator machine, the hissing of the blood pressure cuff, the hum of the cooling pad machine, loud beeps when an IV ran low.

A fall at the beginning of Holy Week had caused bleeding in the brain, a part of Mom’s skull was removed and surgery undergone. Meds had to be constantly tweaked to adjust for pressure in the brain, to adjust blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, fluids, lungs, the list went on. 

My Dad, my sisters Sue and Tricia, and I had taken turns sitting by Mom’s side 24/7.  Clergy visited daily. I personally was exhausted and terrified. I couldn’t see God.

WHERE ARE YOU AND WHY ISN’T MOM GETTING ANY BETTER?! I asked again and again.

He wasn’t working fast enough; Mom’s status went up and down like a yo-yo. I was going through the motions of Morning and Evening Prayer and Holy Week services, yet I still couldn’t see God or feel His presence and I was scared that I had lost my faith that He would heal Mom.

It was Easter Day, four days after the surgery. Dad, Sue and I were around Mom’s bed with our family friend Mother Ann and her husband Jason. Ironically we were all supposed to have Easter dinner together, but the original plan was to have it around Sue’s dinner table with my brother-in-law, niece and nephews. Mother Ann brought out her hospital communion kit and prayer book and began to gently lead us in prayer.  I tried to focus, but fear and doubt had my mind racing. 

“…have confidence in your loving care…”

“…help them with their faith…”

The words of the prayers broke through my wanderings. How did she know about my doubts? I wondered, somewhat embarrassed. We all received communion together, and gradually everyone left. I stayed in the room, it was my turn for the night shift. The prayer service was on my mind as I settled in.

Fitfully dozing in the chair the nurses had given us for the overnights, I was awakened by the sound of one of the nurses as she was changing out an IV line. After the line was changed and the other lines checked, the nurse gently took a cloth and wiped Mom’s swollen eyes and bruised face, carefully stretched Mom’s arms, put pillows under her swollen hands, readjusted the sheets.  As I quietly watched her in the dimly lit room, I was filled with warmth as I finally saw God, in the gentle caring of the nurse.

 My heart and eyes were now fully opened, and then I realized where else God had been: in the gentle hug of a church friend who had 60+ years experience as a nurse telling me that healing is happening even though I couldn’t see it; in the faithful, literally world-wide, with their prayers for Mom’s healing and for our family; the phone calls, texts and emails of support and encouragement from so many family and friends; in the maker of the prayer shawl  and writer of the prayer it came with; the nurses and doctors and in the hospital worker who got Tricia and I into the staff dining room for breakfast when the coffee shop was closed; the chance meeting in a municipal parking lot of a coworker who reassured me that her father had the same surgery and complications and was fine now; in the clergy as they made daily visits to Mom and to whichever family member was at the bedside; in my brothers-in-law, niece and nephews as they held down the fort on their respective home fronts;  in my sisters as they sat with Mom and kept encouraging Dad to take care of himself; and in Dad as he gently patted Mom’s hand at the end of each of his visits reassuring my sedated Mom that he’d be back the next morning.

Thank you, Lord, for this Easter Blessing of finally seeing You, and for those around me who held me up when I was unable to was my quiet prayer.

You’re welcome, came the gentle reply.

© Diane L. Neuls DeBlasio 2012

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