Every Tuesday in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.

Before we were married, I tried to convince my then-boyfriend to help me take my two cats (and my roommate’s cat) to a blessing of the animals at the Lutheran church I attended. He said no—serving up some nonsense about not wanting to cart three feline crates to church and then somehow control them in the sanctuary. It just felt unfair to me to take my own two cats to be blessed without bringing along my roommate’s as well; I didn’t want to create tension or bad blood between the kitties, some being blessed and others not. Yet while I expected my husband’s response and I’ve treated the subject with some cheekiness here, I really love the idea of Saint Francis Day.

According to The Humane Society of the United States, “St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, is celebrated worldwide on October 4. Faith communities hold pet blessings and similar events throughout autumn to honor the saint’s devotion to God’s creations.” While the language and the origins of the celebration are distinctly Catholic, many Protestant churches also participate in St. Francis Day; it’s hard to dismiss the contributes of Francis of Assisi to the Christian tradition, and I say this as someone who regularly listens to Susan Boyle’s sung version of the Saint Francis prayer. I find that in the midst of parenting two small (and often rather noisy and needy) mammals, the words help to reorient my perspective about my life’s purpose—not a “productive” day, but serving as an instrument for God’s glory.

The blessing of the animals, to me, then, offers a reminder about the blessings that animals provide in our lives. Those two cats from my opening vignette are still with me, all of us more aged and travel-worn after moving three times in the ensuing 7 years. One of them shared my first independent apartment with me, and I’m still thankful that her warm form was curled against mine in that empty, sometimes lonely space. My husband and I joke that on the night we brought our elder daughter home, I comforted our crying infant in our bedroom while he tried to soothe our displaced and distraught cat in the hallway. I see now the fruits of their unconditional animal love, where, having survived the colicky infantile cries, both now reap the (mostly) gentle love from my daughters. Grey kitty finds my older daughter every morning, snuggles with her, and wakes up to cuddles and pets from her girl. This is blessing.

The concepts behind a ceremony of blessing animals make sense to me, then, though I’ve still never convinced my husband to schlep our cats there. The ritual of blessing is in itself a giving thanks for the blessings of animals in our lives, and a reminder of our responsibility to all creation. One study of children’s picture books suggests just how much the presentation of animals matters; describing the study in “Are Picture Books Warping How Kids Understand Animals?”, Paul Bisceglio cites “Books that do not present animals and their environments accurately from a biological perspective may not only lead to less learning but also influence children to adopt a human-centered view of the world.” I understand the potentially-problematic theology of equating humans with non-human animals, yet I also think that a Christ-centered worldview must include caring for and about animals.

I see each day the way my children learn from animals, the ones in our homes as well as the ones outdoors. I’ve watched my elder child mature into taking care of our cats (feeding them, petting them, brushing their coats), her increasing compassion manifesting in her gentleness with creatures more vulnerable than she. I note the daily lessons with my toddler—teaching her that gentleness to the only two animals lower than her in our household hierarchy, and reminding her that animals are not toys who exist for our pleasure but living beings in need of our protection and care. How often does Christ emphasize our responsibility to the least powerful, the most vulnerable, and how clearly can those lessons apply to our relationships with the animals around us? The animals blessed by Francis and in his name may cause theological controversy about their eschatological place, but I don’t actually need to know whether cats have souls or if they go to heaven to recognize the way they bless my life here on earth. I need only consider the sparrow to know that God cares for all Creation, and that I am called to do so too.