By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published October 13, 2011
It was a charming human interest story that appeared last week in many local newspapers and even was occasionally aired on television newscasts—the blessing of pets on or near the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. It was enchanting to see children and adults bringing their treasured pets to be blessed and sprinkled with holy water as the Church honored the memory of St. Francis, who is universally known and regarded as the patron saint of animals of all types. Francis is often depicted in art with birds, donkeys, a wolf, sheep and many other animals as an indication that he found these creatures as precious symbols and expressions of God’s creative goodness.
This year one newspaper article caught my attention with the misinformation that St. Francis’ feast day is on his birthday. His feast day is Oct. 4 and is more associated with the day of his death on Oct. 3 than with his birth—the exact date of his birth remains hidden in mystery. Saints’ feasts generally are connected with the day they are born into eternity rather than with the day of their earthly birth as it is with Francis. Saints are born into the glory of heaven, and those are dates that the Church usually establishes as their feast day.
Occasionally, however, the Church selects another date for the assigned feast. St. John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ birthdays play with the earth’s revolution around the sun and the scriptural quote from St. John: “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30). St. John the Baptist’s birthday on June 24 is fixed in conjunction with the summer solstice and Jesus’ birthday on Dec. 25 is aligned with the winter solstice, thus giving celestial manifestation to the sun’s decreasing at John’s birth while beginning its increase at Jesus’ birth. The Church’s humor is clearly apparent in this interchange.
Sometimes the Church simply observes nature with the assignment of her feast days: Mary’s birth is observed on Sept. 8, exactly nine months after the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8. Jesus’ birthday is exactly nine months after the feast of the Annunciation on March 25.
Now we face the challenges of contemporary saints. Blessed John Paul II died on April 2, and this date will provide many future conflicts with the liturgical calendar. Often April 2 will be involved with Holy Week and the Easter celebrations. Thus the Church has chosen another day to observe his feast day on a date that will recall his election to the Chair of Peter. This year will begin the tradition of honoring Blessed John Paul II on Oct. 22, the date of the liturgical inauguration of his papacy. We will have a special program in his memory at the Cathedral, and Bishop Zarama will celebrate an anticipated Mass honoring the new Blessed on Friday, Oct. 21.
Our liturgical calendar is filled with many commemorative days for God’s Holy Ones—the saints (and blessed) whose lives have enriched and inspired the Church and whose memory brings comfort and hope to all of us who are still struggling to join their chorus one day—a day that is known to God alone!