A friend recently reminded me that the deepest divide among people is not liberal and conservative, but the chasm between dog people and cat people. The affection people hold for pets and animals is visceral.
For people of faith, love for animals can be unsettling when set against the backdrop of dire human needs. This sense of imbalance is particularly disquieting because animals — especially our beloved pets — are unconditionally loving and, as a result, so easy to love. Alas, humankind at times can be so unloving that we marvel at those (think of our newest official saint) whose love for others seems effortless and unrestrained.
Some, like Theresa Meurs, seem to share Mother Teresa’s gift for giving love, but most of us must scale internal barriers to express true Christian charity toward our neighbor.
Columnist Janet Cleaveland reminds us that St. Francis, whose feast day is Oct. 4, called other creatures his brothers and sisters. The saint’s impulse is affirmed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which reminds us that we “owe animals kindness.”
Maybe our teaching and the life of St. Francis can shed light on the road to compassion. Perhaps love for other creatures can be a step on the journey toward loving humankind, as Father Paul Pluth suggests.
After all, the great saint was the son of a merchant and fought as a soldier before he wrote the “Canticle of the Sun.” If he wasn’t born with his heart open to the fullness of charity, perhaps his love of animals was a gateway to his (and our) love for the poor. At a minimum, we know animals can show us roads less traveled.
Maybe our dogs and cats aren’t dividing us, but bringing us together.
Northwest Catholic - October 2016
Greg Magnoni was the founding editor and associate publisher of Northwest Catholic until 2018.