The blast of bagpipes cut through the morning mist in front of the 1840s St. Paul School Chapel as Ryder, a yearling calf, waited to be blessed as part of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. This was the sixth year that Miles Smith Farm critters have been blessed by the priests at St. Paul's School in Concord.
Raised as a Christian Scientist, today I don't subscribe to any specific religion, but I do enjoy the sacred music of Christianity whether sung or played by a bagpiper. For me, “Amazing Grace” seemed especially apt that morning through the coincidence of a Scottish instrument serenading my shaggy Scottish Highlander calf.
But St. Francis was Italian. Born in the 12th century, he became the Christian Church's patron saint of animals and the environment. Each October animals are blessed in his name at St. Paul's School (and elsewhere).
Even though I'm not Episcopalian, I feel that cattle deserve to be blessed. They have made human existence so much more viable. For centuries they pulled plows so that we could plant crops. They produce the perfect fertilizer (in abundance!) to nourish those crops. They replicate themselves by giving birth to calves, and they supply protein to sustain human life.
But cattle do more than provide meat and milk. Did you know that they also yield raw material for other products? Hooves and horns are used in wallpaper and shampoo; bones are used to create glass and charcoal; hair is used in brushes and air filters; skin is used in gelatin, emery boards and medicines; fat is used in chewing gum, candles, ceramics, chalk and deodorant; and milk is in cosmetics and adhesives. The list of products is long and includes vitamins, crayons, and matches. Yes, instead of cursing the darkness, you can light a match – and thank a cow!
Because cattle make our lives better, both in life and death, I take every opportunity to honor my livestock. Every year I take at least one cow to be blessed at St. Paul's. Happily, cows don't have the capacity to contemplate mortality or ruminate over the meaning of life. But I know that each day of their lives is precious, and we try to treat them accordingly.