St. Francis and My Dog

Happy Feast Day to all my Franciscan friends. We held a rainy blessing of the animals day here on Sunday, so my pictures were awful and Haze, my dog, doesn’t really like other dogs so he wouldn’t really cooperate with us.

Regardless, I don’t need an excuse to write about my dog, but St. Francis gives me a good excuse to. Dan Horan, OFM, has a great post about Francis’ Transitus–the passing from this life to the next one which Franciscans celebrated last night. At the heart of his post is Francis’ request as he lay dying was that the Gospel reading for Holy Thursday be read. Many use this reading to preach on discipleship–and rightly so–but from where I sit, I always think this reading lies at the heart of Jesus’ boundless forgiveness for each one of us.

A snip from the 13th Chapter of the Gospel of John:

When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you as example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Washing one’s feet is more than a service. Let’s not forget that the disciples wore sandals and that the marketplace was often filled with livestock. So feet became quite a messy matter. Even some servants would refuse to wash another’s feet.

In the same way, what do we refuse to do for others in our lives? Quite often we refuse to let our resentments go. We find it quite hard to forgive even petty things and then the deeper hurts make it even harder for us to stretch ourselves towards forgiveness.

Perhaps Francis knew this as well as Jesus did when he gathered his servants together before he died and asked them to hear these words. The reminder to be servants always starts with the reminder to wash feet. And our feet, like our faults, symbolize the ways that we fail over and over again. Don’t I always offend my wife in the same ways, over and over? Don’t I have the same weaknesses throughout my life? In confession don’t I always find myself confessing similar, if not the same sins? Evil traits linger. And it’s up to others to be patient with us, or to cast us to the wind.

And God is strong in that infinite patience that he has with each one of us. Can we model that kind of patience with our co-workers, our families, close friends? Marriage has taught me that kind of patience–to seek forgiveness as often as I am called upon to forgive.

So where does my pet come into this story?

Well, when I need a reminder of how often I need to forgive, I just have to look to my dog, Haze. Dogs have essentially no short term memory which makes them boundlessly forgiving of their best friends. I once clipped Haze’s skin in his harness and really hurt him. He yipped at an ear piercing level and wouldn’t let me near him to try and remove the harness. Mercifully, I was finally able to pry it loose from his body. I felt awful! I hurt the dog–an innocent docile animal. But two minutes later, Haze was jumping into my lap and licking the tears out of my eyes, licking my face lovingly and even licking my bald head–a now, nightly occurrence.

If I’m honest, I often take my dog for granted. I leave him alone in an empty house while I go off for my own fun. I’ve forgotten to feed him or to buy his favorite treats. I’ve made him wait too long to go out and then when he seeks “relief” I get angry at him for going in the house somewhere.

And yet at the click of my key in the door he is there, bounding towards the door unconditionally greeting me. Is there anyone that I dare to greet the same way when they come to see ME?

I think I can be neglectful. Do I take care of my parents well enough? Do I give enough time to my marriage? Am I patient with my students? Supportive enough of co-workers?

Guess what? None of us are perfect at any of this. And we will often need to be forgiven for our failures. More importantly, others are not going to live up to our expectations. Will we be as forgiving of others when they don’t meet the standard either?

Francis seemed to understand that the future friars would need to be people who would wash feet. They would need to be people who could look at the dirtiest parts of each of their brothers and then tenderly wash that griminess down the drain. Perhaps he learned that from his love of all creation?

So today, as we celebrate Francis’ legacy, might we be bold enough to be naked in the town square–to seek forgiveness of those we neglect, to place our forgiveness and our need for forgiveness at the heart of our service to others. Francis was deeply in touch with his faults, shedding his own clothes to be in solidarity with the poor and sharing in the indignity that goes along with that–somethat that all of so-called dignified society inflicts on those that the world often leaves behind.

May we, who follow in Francis’ footsteps, bring much healing, dignity and boundless forgiveness to the world. And in so doing, may we be a channel of God’s peace.

Seeing St. Francis

Quite often we see statues of St. Francis in the garden, a seemingly tranquil figurine, surrounded by nature and other animals. As the patron of ecology and animal lovers it indeed seems a very appropriate place for St Francis to be, no?

But how often to we relegate Francis to the garden? This was a man who was in fact, quite a rabble rouser. He was someone that we might even be afraid of because of his craziness? I mean what would you think of someone who strips nude in front of his father in the public square? Francis was no quiet dove.

But then again, perhaps there’s even more to tranquility than meets the eye.

Francis was someone who couldn’t live any other way once his eyes were opened to the plight of the poor. His choosing of a life of poverty was a radical choice to be sure, but it was also a choice for tranquility in his heart. If he chose any other way of life, Francis would have lived a life of anxiety, unable to sleep at night, uncomfortable with his role in all of creation.

Dare I say, he would have been out of harmony with his nature.

I think perhaps even the animals sensed this inner peace from this man who was comfortable in his own skin. He didn’t need anything else from anyone. All he needed was to give love to others and presumably to love all of creation including brother sun and sister moon and brother dog and sister cat. Animals often can sense someone who is that confident and will become submissive to that person as a pack leader and they in turn give them comfort as well. I know when I feel even a little bit off, Haze, my dog can sense that and it gets him uncomfortable as well. Things are simply not in harmony and it throws the whole balance of our lives off.

Do we ever feel “out of harmony” with ourselves? Do we ever make a choice that goes against our own “inner tranquility?” Do the animals run from us because they sense our fear? Do we ever dare to be naked before God with all of our own convictions?

Or do we choose to hide in the garden ashamed?

It seems our failures are indeed as old as the hills. And because of that we need Francis, who teaches us how to live in harmony with ourselves and in turn, with all of nature.

Francis’ prayer also lets us know that being in peaceful harmony with creation did not come easy for him and therefore we all need to pray:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Now go hug an animal that blesses us with their companionship, or head to the zoo, or simply enjoy the environment on which you live today and know that you are connected to it all–in harmony with all of God’s creation.