Franciscan documents

Franciscan bits & pieces picked up by Ted Witham tssf

Archive for the tag “animals”

Jesus and a mule


It is clear from the New Testament that Jesus valued animals. He commended animal-owners for pulling their oxen out of a well even on the Sabbath. He noticed dogs playing around the table of the foreign woman. The story below comes from the Coptic tradition. It is historically true? Probably not. But it does encourage us to see Jesus as concerned for all of the Father’s Creation.

***

Jesus and the Mule

They came across a man with a pack-mule. But the animal had fallen because its load was too heavy, and the owner beat it so much it started bleeding. So Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, why are you beating your animal? Can’t you see that it is not strong enough for its load, and don’t you know that it feels pain?’

But the man replied, ‘What is that to you? I can beat it as much as I want to, because it is my property and I paid a lot of money for it.’ …

But the Lord said, ‘Can’t you see it bleeding? Can’t you hear its cries of pain? ‘

But he said, ‘No. Can’t hear a thing.’

And the Lord was sad and exclaimed, ‘That’s bad news, that you can’t hear it complaining to its Creator in heaven, and crying to you for mercy. Very bad news for those it complains about in its distress.’ And the Lord touched the animal. It got up – its wounds healed!

Jesus then said to its owner, ‘Now carry on your way and don’t beat the animal anymore, so that you too will find mercy.’

–          Roderic Dunkerley, Beyond the Gospels, London: Pelican, 1957, 143-144 (Quoted in Hobgood-Oster, The Friends We Keep,  108-109, and rendered into modern English by Ted Witham

St Francis tells Br. Leo about the incident at Gubbio


 

My heart in my mouth I set off to meet Wolf.
He filled me with fear. He was Other.
I walked dark into the forest, so deeply looking
That at first I failed to see this Brother.

He appeared to be slinking around a tree.
In shadow, he looked all grey and black.
His eyes though lighted were lifeless,
And I froze, my feet bare on the mountain track.

I stared at the terrible empty eyes.
Brother Wolf still as a stone about to slide.
My eyes entered his and the space between melted.
We became one: my eyes and heart in Wolf’s inside.

He swallowed me whole. Yet I possessed him too.
Confused our hunger for love and humanity.
Crossed our praise of power in life and death.
Gubbio lay below in its simple vulnerability.

We stayed like that for time and a time,
Then slowly, gently in two came apart;
The same, yet different than before.
I burning with hunger and he humbled in heart.

I led him back like a lamb to the village.
Aflame, I rebuked him with voice and with prod.
“Share, show respect, live in harmony.”
The villagers rejoiced. I devoured God.

Ted Witham © 1996

I wrote this poem in 1996, but lately I have been thinking again about the paradoxes of redemption: wolves and food, need and encounter come to mind again in this telling of the story of the events near Gubbio.

*****

Published in Assisi, New York, Fall 2011, Spring 2012

Arthur Boyd's tapestry of St Francis as he embraces Brother Wolf

Do Franciscans Bless Animals?


Before I start criticising the practice of blessing animals, let me confess that I have blessed animals, and would do so again.  In fact for a couple of years, Tom Sutton of Subiaco Parish in Perth invited me, along with other Franciscans and other priests to a great outdoor animal blessing.

Bless me, St Bernard!

There is a picture of me blessing a great St Bernard, and it was a delight to make friends with this gentle creature.

This jamboree was stopped only because a certain dog food manufacturer was a sponsor and took advantage of this event.  It took it over by emblazoning its name on every object and dog parade and snail race in sight.

Fr Tom rightly believed that such rampant capitalism was at odds with the spirit of animal blessing.

But as a Franciscan I do feel ambivalent about blessing animals. Not that I have any theological problem with asking for God’s blessing on either pets or wild animals. Our blessing simply confirms the reality is that God has already blessed creation. See Genesis 1.

Nor do I mind the chaos that can be caused by creatures great and small in a little church with God’s people trying to celebrate the Eucharist with devotion.

My problem, I think, is twofold.  Firstly, blessing animals can become a sentimental act. “Isn’t it nice?  Isn’t it lovely?”  If an animal blessing is organised only to evoke superficial sentiments, then it is a dangerous waste of time.  If an animal blessing is organised only to delight children, then it is a diversion from reality.

Secondly, blessing animals can easily turn companion animals into possessions rather than being seen as God’s gifts to us.  The attitude that our pets are simply a convenience can easily lead to neglect and abuse, but even before it gets to that stage, this attitude diminishes us, making us, consumers of animals’ services, rather than their grateful friends. (Click HERE for an RSPCA view of pet ownership.)

What Franciscans can do is to encourage people to think carefully about our relationship with animals.  Saint Francis believed that each creature is a Word of God.  In our encounter with an animal, St Francis encourages us to allow that animal to disclose its story to us.  The animal is not there simply for our unfettered use, but is a fellow-creature put on this earth to share existence with us and to join our praise of the Most High Creator.

Our pets are our companions, not our slaves.

And do we bless the animals that give food, are food for us?  Much has been written about the distance between us urban dwellers and the milk and meat that we enjoy.  If we bless our pets, then we should equally bless the animals that nurture us.  We should be prepared to ask whether the cost of being a meat-eater is too high.  Dr Rajendra Pachauri Chair of the IPCC spoke of the positive environmental impact of eating one less meat meal each week. (Click HERE to read his comments).

Wild animals are a blessing, too, although I suspect it’s impossible to catch a blue wren or an Oenpelli python to lay hands on and pronounce a blessing over it!

So my plea is a Franciscan is, if we are to bless animals, then let’s do it with thorough thought and prayer, and not just as a liturgical stunt. But no one would do that, would they?




Post Navigation