|Oldest portrait of St. Francis, painted during his lifetime.|
I am delighted to add the work "bunkum" to my vocabulary. There are quite a number of saintly stories to which it can be applied. St. Guinefort, who turned out to be a dog, springs to mind.
Let's get a few things straight about animals. You can tell that none of us (with the possible exception of vegans and I believe even vegans would put the dog down when the time came) believe that animals have immortal souls.
Let's take an mammal that does have an immortal soul and treat it like animal. Your Aunt Louise. We will keep Aunt Louise in a cage. We will take her eggs and have them for breakfast. We will raise the children of Aunt Louise and then slaughter them and eat them, happily roasting their flesh on the grill during summer parties. We will make coats and shoes from their skins. We will make shawls with their hair. If we can't afford to fix Aunt Louise's health problem, we'll take her behind the barn and shoot her. Or maybe, if she's too old to walk, we'll have a doctor give her an injection. If she's small enough, we might just flush her carcass down the toilet.
We do all of these things and many more to animals, precisely because we do not believe they have immortal souls.
On top of that, animals can't pray or do penance. They can't sin, but their 'goodness' is not a choice. It's instinctive behavior and/or training.
That said, St. Francis did actually preach to animals. It's not bunkum. Did he preach to animals in order than they better themselves and get to Heaven? No. The stories of St. Francis in regard to animals (bees crawling to him to be fed, conversations with wolves) are...bunkum-ish. They are just legends.
And before I have to listen to everyone screech, "But Sister! He called them Brother Bird and such and told them to praise God!", please keep in mind that he also said the same thing to "Brother Sun". Is the sun going to Heaven?
St. Francis may have called the hen "Sister Chicken", but he also had her for dinner.
Let's step back a moment and examine St. Francis' love of animals and nature in its proper context.
"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men." St. Francis of Assisi.
This about sums it up. There was actually a wolf who had eaten some sheep. St. Francis asked that the people to understand that the wolf was God's creature and that it ate the sheep because it was hungry. It's the kind of compassion and understanding that God asks of us.
St. Francis was not a particularly educated person. He had a simple childlike nature and he believed that since we are all from God, we are all kin. But he included in this all manner of animate and inanimate objects. His love of creatures rose from a deep and abiding sense of God in all of His Creation.
Over on catholic culture .org they display the blessing of the animals. One line is: And animals share in Christ's redemption of all creation. Might animals then, be included in the new earth? If they just die and are gone, what is being redeemed? Or what is meant by redeemed here?
You've taken that line a bit out of context. The whole blessing mentions that God often uses animals to get His message across. (Think Jonah in the whale.) What is being redeemed here? You are. We hope.
Here is what we say when we bless the animal:
"N.(name of animal, i.e. "Smokey", not cat/dog) may you be blessed in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. May you and N. (the name of the guardian) enjoy life together and find joy with the God who created you."
Yes, we bless animals. We also bless rosaries and cars. We hope that through your animal, just as Francis thought, we would come to see God through His creation and feel God's love for us by all He has given us.
We bless animals. We don't baptize them. That should tell you something.