Tuesday, October 20, 2015

St. Frances of Assisi - Patron Saint of Animals

WOW!  It always amazes me to discover anew during troubled times that asking the saints to intervene really works. There is something about giving up control, allowing life to unfold, accepting the circumstances and being at peace with the outcome, all of which help pave our path to faith.  I have put off writing a post about St. Frances, Patron Saint of Animals, in spite of many requests.  Although I have always admired St. Frances and even have his statue gracing my gardens, I had never had the opportunity to call him to action like I did this past week.  Before, my writing would have been mostly hearsay but now I speak from experience. St. Frances, one of the most popular statues and recognized saints of our time, really can create a miracle.  

Vintage St. Frances Cement Garden Statue from Chris Hart Studio
My first recollection of St. Frances was when I was 8 and living on the family cattle ranch.   In those days we doctored our own cattle, horses and dogs. Calling a vet was rarely necessary or affordable.  I watched my dad vaccinate and worm cattle, clean barbwire cuts, bottle-feed newborns and neuter anything that hung around long enough to get caught. Our farm dog, a beautiful silver German Shepherd named Queenie was a working dog and an important part of the family.  One day she  became seriously ill, unable to keep anything down.  My mother was dedicated to restoring her health, getting up through the night to feed her water with a syringe, raw eggs, rice and chicken stock.  Nothing worked and just when my mother was packing the car to take her to the vet,  Queenie, so thin and weak, disappeared into the blackberries. We called and hunted for her, leaving food and water out hoping she would find it. After days we gave up in tears knowing we would never see her again.  My mother, whose deep respect and love of animals had cured many sick and injured that came our way, said quietly "It's up to St. Frances now."  When a rack of bones barely recognizable as Queenie appeared at our back door 7 days later we were in disbelief.  Mumbling something about St. Frances and a miracle, my mother set to work nursing her back to health.

So when my healthy, extremely active 6 year old running companion, Maizey became severely ill quite suddenly last week, it was clearly time for a trip to the emergency vet. Within hours she had became catatonic, fevered and in pain. I began my vigil. That night, as I watched her slip into a coma, unable to stop vomiting or urinating, she began bleeding out internally. I told Maizey about St. Francis and his miracle with our farm dog, 55 years ago. The vet didn't hold out much hope.  My heart broke as my mind swirled with confusion about making the right decisions on behalf of my loyal friend and constant companion. I cried as I huddled on the floor of the kennel with her in my arms. I put my ear against her chest listening to her heart beat and wondered if it was really up to me to make it stop.  I prayed to St. Frances to show the way.
St. Frances was born in 1182 into a wealthy merchant family in Assisi, Italy.  He chose to go on the second crusade but on his first night out he had a vision from God. Although, thought to be a coward, he turned away from war to peace. He gave away his worldly possessions, preaching humility, poverty, simplicity and prayer to everyone.  He included all of God's creation, from insects, trees and animals, even the birds to whom he graced with his sermons.  His statue is shown with birds on his shoulders and often a wolf by his leg, symbolizing his love of animals.

Maizey visiting with my mother Mary at 100
As I held Maizey, it seemed there were no simple answers but then I remembered St. Frances's teachings on simplicity. He looked for the simplest solution to every problem believing that simplicity is a virtue that leads to peace.  That's when I found the answer. Maizey's heart was not mine to stop.  I felt a peace wash over me when I passed the burden off to St. Frances. Either she would tell me it was time or she would give me a sign she wasn't giving up.  Just because my heart was broken didn't give me a license to make a decision about her heart. Sure enough, when she raised her head painfully and recognized me the next morning, I knew then that she had a deal going with St. Frances.

Maizey is back home. While she is not her usual active self, she is getting stronger everyday. I am grateful St. Frances took it out of my hands. He freed me to just love her and be there to comfort her. St. Frances and Maizey did the rest just like he did with Queenie. And just like my mom, I found myself mumbling something about St. Frances and a miracle when I loaded Maizey into my car to go home.