KEARNY — Have you ever met a bearded dragon? We encountered one for the very first time Saturday morning on Belgrove Drive and instantly fell in love. We would get one of our own, except we would want it to be a free-range dragon, at least indoors, and we don’t think the cats could adjust.
This dragon’s name was Odi, and he was among the critters who gathered with their human caretakers (don’t say “owners”) for the annual Blessing of the Animals in honor of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment.
The ceremony took place on the front lawn at the Archdiocesan Youth Retreat Center (formerly Boystown) and was conducted by the Rev. Msgr. John Gilchrist, with the assistance of Sister Doris DeLotto.
The service began with a reading from the Book of Genesis about God’s creating the animals — and the birds and fish, et al — and continued with a series of beautiful prayers.
Example: “What is man that you [God] should be mindful of him or the son of man that you should care for him? You have given him rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under his feet. All sheep and oxen, yes, and animals of the field, the birds of the air, the fishes of the sea, and whatever swims the paths of the seas.
“God created us and places us on this earth to be the stewards of all living things and so to proclaim the glory of their Creator.”
That concept of stewardship, of humankind’s being entrusted with the care and protection of other creatures, is worth dwelling upon, especially in light of current ecological crises and the potential decimation of some wild species due to profit-hungry hunters and poachers. (And the customers who buy the ivory or pelts or whatever.)
But stewardship also extends to domestic animals, and while most people with pets love them dearly, sometimes we could use a reminder of how the non-human members of our families feel. At the blessing, a list of such reminders was distributed. Here are few that touched our heart:
“Give me time to understand what you want of me.”
“Talk to me. Even if I don’t understand your words, I do understand your voice.”
“Be aware that however you treat me, I will never forget it.”
“Please take care of me when I grow old. You, too, will grow old.”
And this, which nearly broke our heart:
“On the ultimate difficult journey, go with me please. Never say you can’t bear to watch. Don’t make me face this alone. Everything is easier for me if you are there, because I love you so.”
We have attended this particular program several times and are always struck by how the animals — the majority being canines, some barkingly rambunctious — tend to go quiet when they are gathered in a semi-circle in front of the St. Francis statue for the actual blessing. (Although, one or two are a bit surprised when they get sprinkled with holy water. The bearded dragon didn’t seem to mind, though.)
And then it was over. And all the animals, some cradled in their humans’ arms, headed homeward. To, we are certain, happy homes. For those humans, those stewards, who cared enough to bring their pets to the blessing must truly love them.
My personal prayer is that every animal might find such love, or at least be protected from cruelty and hate.