Thursday, October 4, 2012

Kissing Francis

Since my earlier post on the Blessing of the Animals as a potential act of self-deception, I've softened a bit. Or, better put, I've remembered that the blessing of animals is not always soft. In particular, I remember a particular Blessing of the Animals at St Helena's - my first animal blessing as priest - and I remember the child who was not convinced that it was enough for me to sprinkle his snake with water, however holy. "Touch it," he said. "It doesn't count unless you touch it." Ugh. No. I'm sorry. It's not happening. I threw some water on the boy in irritation and kept moving around the circle. The boy's voice followed me as I went, "You have to touch it!" he went on, with obvious glee. 

Sacramentally, of course, the boy was right. Per Prayer Book rubrics at the Eucharist, the priest touches the bread and wine at the words of institution. Thankfully, animal blessings are not as clearly sacramental; but the boy's liturgical instinct was right.

More than a liturgical quibble, however, the life of Francis has kept the boy's insistence alive in my heart some years later. Francis, before his conversion, was deathly afraid of lepers. One day, seeing a leper begging alms, Francis determined to press on. Suddenly, he stopped. Francis turned back, gave the leper his money, and kissed him. "It doesn't count unless you touch him."

Is this a point of entry for Christians, in understanding our lives and love of neighbor, indeed all creation, as living praise? Blessing and touch. Praise of the Creator finding tangible expression; the reality that we cannot lift up anything to God except with our hands. Can the Blessing of the Animals recall us to the truth about ourselves and our substance, the materiality through which we share God's love as creatures of God? My earlier crankiness notwithstanding, I don't want to lose the animal blessing, and I agree that where it's done the emphasis must be praise. The question becomes, if we're willing to lay hands on animals as an act of praise of their Creator, why not also with one another? Do we forget we are creatures, too? And who are the lepers today?

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