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The Spirit of St. Francis

Francis of Assisi, renewer of the church, died on Oct. 4, 1226. We celebrate his life and his love of creation this month.

by Bryan Cones

The feast of St. Francis of Assisi is a bit bittersweet for me nowadays. When my church celebrates the annual blessing of pets, I can’t help but remember Coco, a now-departed Siamese cat that I’m sure St. Francis—famous for calling the sun and the moon his siblings—would have aptly named “Sister Cat” if he added her to his Canticle of the Creatures. God was surely praised in this feline creation.

Coco wasn’t actually my cat to begin with—she preceded me in the household by seven or eight years, a faithful companion to my partner long before I showed up. My presence in the family required some adjustment on Coco’s part, and we had a bit of a rocky relationship. While I expected occasional affection even from the feline version of household pets—I came from a dog family—unconditional love was not part of Coco’s emotional range.

Coco and I did, over the eight or so years we lived together, become friends, but like the fox in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, we had to “tame” each other, “to establish ties,” in the words of the fox to the prince: “If you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world.” As Coco and I did our little dance of getting to know one another, I certainly came to see her as a being in her own right, a feline being, unique in all the world. I couldn’t expect her to change for me—she was always someone, “some- cat,” all her own.

My friendship with Coco changed the way I hear the first story of God creating in Genesis over six days—or maybe she helped me hear it properly, perhaps more in the spirit of St. Francis: Human beings are created after all the rest of the land animals on the sixth day, the last of all God’s works. We are, literally, “companion animals”—as we have come to call our pets—to the rest of creation. Coco taught me how to be a better companion animal, so maybe on St. Francis Day I ought to be asking for a “pet blessing” for myself.

Bryan Cones is a writer and editor living in Chicago.

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