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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Monday, July 30, 2012


Oldest portrait of St. Francis, painted during his lifetime.

Are the stories about St. Francis bunkum, or was he just misled? I wonder why he would bother to preach to the animals if they are soulless.

I am delighted to add the work "bunkum" to my vocabulary.  There are quite a number of saintly stories to which it can be applied. St. Guinefort, who turned out to be a dog, springs to mind.

Let's get a few things straight about animals. You can tell that none of us (with the possible exception of vegans and I believe even vegans would put the dog down when the time came) believe that animals have immortal souls.

Let's take an mammal that does have an immortal soul and treat it like animal. Your Aunt Louise. We will keep Aunt Louise in a cage. We will take her eggs and have them for breakfast.  We will raise the children of Aunt Louise and then slaughter them and eat them, happily roasting their flesh on the grill during summer parties.  We will make coats and shoes from their skins.  We will make shawls with their hair. If we can't afford to fix Aunt Louise's health problem, we'll take her behind the barn and shoot her. Or maybe, if she's too old to walk, we'll have a doctor give her an injection.  If she's small enough, we might just flush her carcass down the toilet.

We do all of these things and many more to animals, precisely because we do not believe they have immortal souls.

On top of that, animals can't pray or do penance.  They can't sin, but their 'goodness' is not a choice. It's instinctive behavior and/or training.

That said, St. Francis did actually preach to animals. It's not bunkum.  Did he preach to animals in order than they better themselves and get to Heaven? No.  The stories of St. Francis in regard to animals (bees crawling to him to be fed, conversations with wolves) are...bunkum-ish. They are  just legends.

And before I have to listen to everyone screech, "But Sister! He called them Brother Bird and such and told them to praise God!", please keep in mind that he also said the same thing to "Brother Sun".  Is the sun going to Heaven?

St. Francis may have called the hen "Sister Chicken", but he also had her for dinner.

Let's step back a moment and examine St. Francis' love of animals and nature in its proper context.
"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men." St. Francis of Assisi.
This about sums it up. There was actually a wolf who had eaten some sheep. St. Francis asked that the people to understand that the wolf was God's creature and that it ate the sheep because it was hungry.  It's the kind of compassion and understanding that God asks of us.

St. Francis was not a particularly educated person. He had a simple childlike nature and he believed that since we are all from God, we are all kin. But he included in this all manner of animate and inanimate objects. His love of creatures rose from a deep and abiding sense of God in all of His Creation.

Over on catholic culture .org they display the blessing of the animals. One line is: And animals share in Christ's redemption of all creation. Might animals then, be included in the new earth? If they just die and are gone, what is being redeemed? Or what is meant by redeemed here?
You've taken that line a bit out of context. The whole blessing mentions that God often uses animals to get His message across. (Think Jonah in the whale.)  What is being redeemed here? You are. We hope.
Here is what we say when we bless the animal:
 "N.(name of animal, i.e. "Smokey", not cat/dog) may you be blessed in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. May you and N. (the name of the guardian) enjoy life together and find joy with the God who created you."
Yes, we bless animals. We also bless rosaries and cars.  We hope that through your animal, just as Francis thought, we would come to see God through His creation and feel God's love for us by all He has given us.

We bless animals. We don't baptize them. That should tell you something.


Shannon B. said...

Well put! Sister, I was wondering if you could shed some light on a particular subject. Being a young woman, of course I find the opposite sex very desirable and attractive. To someone who is currently living a chaste life, what does one do with the desires that one has? I know it is not a sin to desire certain things as a female, but since I'm chaste, where is the line drawn? I could just be over-thinking this subject too.

I thought perhaps you may have some interesting insight given that you are both a woman AND a religious:)

Anonymous said...

Wondering that, too. Please do a post on chastity, celibasy, and desire. Please. Thank God for you, Sister.

Anonymous said...

what is your opinion of the "Fatima Network", Father Nicholas Gruner and that organisations interpertation of the 3rd secret of Fatima?

Unknown said...

I especially like the animal prayer Sister Mary Martha gave us. Very deep. I have in the past pictured the same different. I have been present during the blessing of animals ( which is only recent in Asheville NC ) but never close enough to the huddled family and animal to hear the words. May be I imagined it but that can wreck any notion that Catholics pass things around, I imagine similar to but better 'God bless this union of animal and person(s). Most Bountiful Heavenly Father give this animal full life with all health and wealth and may this blessing comfort the owners who desire their pet's companionship. May their pets long life with them be an inspiration to who then better their obediance to Churche teaching.'
Again answering the question if animals are with us in heaven, and can answer more should you hear no, will they be given the gift of discernment to determine good from evil? No. It is simple logic, a simple lesson, something that we must grasp, that a kind of communion exists between animal and man but never any where in the bible does animal compare with man to enough of an extent. Man was instructed to take care of all the animals on earth ( Genesis:27-28 So God created man in his [own] image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. Proverbs 12:10 A righteous [man] regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked [are] cruel. 1 Timothy 5:18 For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer [is] worthy of his reward. ) ( which we have badly neglected judging from our situation ), as a part of this job of caring for animals the Holy Bible states that as a sort of reward we are allowed to eat this meat from these *cooked animals ( let's not at the moment fight over what animals ) and so enjoy this eating of meat ( Leviticus 11:3 Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, [and] cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat. Leviticus 11:9 These shall ye eat of all that [are] in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat. Deuteronomy 14:11 [Of] all clean birds ye shall eat. ). Yes, we eat this meat because *first we cared for these animals. ( It is my opinion, but I think you will agree, that should *we care less about animals, neither the animal lovers nor the animal haters will benefit. We both loose. There will be neither companion nor meat. ) Funny, though the church tells us not to rely on rewards as proof of faith, eating meat is a reward, but, we *may enjoy our meat. The American Indians to this day still have many very nice song and dance rituals that are thanks to the animal they will soon prepare to eat ( actually they are thankful for the existence of these animals, which they eat. In our case it will be thanking God for the food. ). The lesson is the same, we live with and communicate with, but we eat, animal. Truth: Saint Francis of Assisi was gifted. Fiction: Even if we all go to great length to obey God's intent concerning the combined animals and we, not all of we, only a few of we will ever communicate with animals like Saint Francis of Assisi did. Fact: Saint Francis of Assisi lived an example of *how *this *is *possible. He was obedient to God's will, he was not just making these things up as he went. Is it Bible? Yes!

Anonymous said...

Dear SMM-

Even though he's not a saint, does anyone make a St Guinefort medal?

Anonymous said...

I think that, like many other aspects of God's kingdom, we don't understand the roles other living beings have in it. Our treatment of animal and plant species in this world with us is based on our "through a glass darkly" glimpse of the whole. I don't find any of the "evidence that animals don't have souls" convincing. It may be God offers love to all species and invites them to a type of god-centered communion. It would be different from the invitation we are given. Our limitations could easily hide such the existence of those souls from us. Perhaps that is why we don't baptize animals.

Janey said...

I have just found this blog and am very much enjoying reading your posts.

Wasn't there some controversy about whether women really had souls? Early medieval times, perhaps? And they just about squeaked in on that one?

I would not entirely be surprised to find that cats have snuck in past St Peter and are settled down quite comfortably. They pretty much do what they please.

PS - this is a joke!

bryant said...

human soul weighs on average 21 grams...there was a scientific study, look it up people.

Anonymous said...

I do believe that animals have immortal souls. Man was banished from Eden, not the animals. We have a fallen nature, not the animals.

My own personal experience tells me that they go on too. I have just had to have my lovely, beautiful old cat (nearly 20 yrs old!) put to sleep :(
He had so much character and personality, I simply cannot believe that all that was down to blood and bone.

Quite simply, if there are no animals in heaven, it certainly won't be heaven to me!

I think it is very arrogant of humans to assume that we are the only ones with an immortal soul.

Of course animals don't need redeeming. They cannot do wrong. But I don't believe that means that their lack of sin doesnot count- simply because they can't help it-? So their nature is not fallen like ours. This to me means they will be in heaven before us!

Anonymous said...

ALSO! The Bible says that God made a covenant with all that came out of the Ark- after the flood. It wasn't just Noah and co., it was everything that came out of the ark! WHy would he make a covenant with animals if they are just here today and gone tomorrow? I think this says a lot about how much He values the animals...