When God's creatures are blessed and surrounded by the love of God, they absorb and reflect His love back in seemingly miraculous ways. My husband and I stumbled on this truth during the twenty years we raised nine kids and an odd assortment of farm animals and pets on a small family farm in eastern Ontario, Canada. Naturally, I was delighted when Pope Francis's environmental encyclical, Laudato Si, clearly explained why people must learn how to cherish animals:
“Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another".
"It would also be mistaken to view other living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary human domination".
The Cat Shall Nurse The Bunnies
God's creatures constantly surprised us, especially when they reflected unconditional love to other animals. For example, a friend of the family gave our kids a huge, white rabbit. However, even though she was litter trained, she would leave a few tiny balls of poop on the floor. Unfortunately, baby Daniel crawled faster than I could sweep, so we moved the rabbit to the barn. A week later, when I moved a couch to vacuum under it, I was shocked to find two baby bunnies under it. The rabbit had given birth without us even realizing it.
Of course, the kids and I panicked at the thought of starving babies and ran all around the barn and the fields trying to find the mother rabbit. In the midst of all the turmoil, our mother cat who had only one kitten in an upstairs closet, calmly walked over, laid down and let the baby rabbits nurse. We were stunned, quickly taking a picture of this black cat with her white nursing bunny babies and kitten because we knew no one would believe us.
Perhaps there was a slice of heaven on earth on our hobby farm because animals who were natural enemies in the wild became friends. In Isaiah, we are told a sign of the kingdom of God is when:
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. - Isaiah 11:6
Those verses from Isaiah came alive in our home.
Animals Respond to Love
Stray cats and dogs were often dropped off at the end of our long lane and managed to wiggle their way into our hearts and home. I must admit some fleabag tomcats had to be fed in our barn; I couldn’t bring them into the house with babies crawling on the floor. One particular tomcat, Amos, was an old curmudgeon with battle scars proving his scrappy disposition. Finally, my husband had enough of this feline bully and took him for a long car ride to get rid of him. Three days later, I opened the kitchen door and there sat Amos, glaring at me. When Michael, my husband, came charging to the door yelling, "No way!", in utter disbelief, the kids and I couldn’t stop laughing. Seems like even old Amos sensed love and simply could not stay away. All day the kids and I joyfully sang a Fred Penner children's song, much to their father's chagrin:
But the cat came back the very next day,
The cat came back, we thought he was a goner
But the cat came back; it just couldn’t stay away.
Once we realized Amos considered himself to be part of the family, we prayed and started the work of taming him.
Blessing God's Creatures
Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2416 Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory.197 Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.
Consider the effect prayer of on Buster, who was a depressed, neurotic, springer spaniel when we first took him into our home. This dog had lived a happy country life until his owners divorced. Unfortunately, for the next two years, he had languished in the garage of a townhouse during the day and slept crated at night. Buster was lucky to get two quick walks a day on a leash, no less. For a dog, such an existence was equal to solitary confinement in a maximum security prison for a human being.
The first month on our farm, Buster ran off all his extra weight and started acting like a normal dog. The former owner phoned us a couple of times, certain we would be fed up with Buster’s obsessive compulsive habits. Honestly, most of his irritating traits vanished as he began living the life of a typical dog.
However, my husband and I noticed Buster still seemed to need inner healing from his traumatic prison sentence. So we decided to pray over the dog. When Buster started panting because he was getting hot, my eyes sprang open, my eyebrows shot up and I looked over at Michael. His eyebrows were raised even higher than mine. Then Michael chuckled, “It’s getting hot, isn’t it Buster?” Buster just panted faster. When the dog's eyelids began to close and he started swaying. Michael encouraged his pet, “It’s okay boy. Just relax.”
Suddenly Buster keeled over sideways and dropped to the floor as if he had died. Startled, I knelt down to peer into the dog’s face and observed, “He is still breathing but out cold!” My husband and I looked at each other and started to laugh once again. To use Pentecostal terminology, our dog was slain in the Spirit. It worked, though, because Buster was more relaxed and peaceful after his prayer session.
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis explains how Saint Francis of Assisi understood that animals are spontaneously drawn into our praise and worship:
Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”
All God's Creatures Great and Small
Michael especially enjoyed his intelligent pigs. When animals feel loved, they relate to people in extraordinary ways. When my husband scratched behind his beloved pig's ears while praying a blessing over them, they actually fell asleep. All four pigs would lay down on the straw around my husband. It was a startling scene to walk in on.
Daisy, our goat, and our pony Starlight always climbed the steps onto the porch and tried to turn the doorknob to get into the house because they considered themselves part of the family. Daisy did not like living in the barn. Although she produced milk like any normal goat, she was a socialized goat who had a charming personality. So we usually tied Daisy to a post so she could see the kids playing outside. If she hadn't seen anyone in a long time, she'd bleat until someone at least poked their head out of the door and talked to her. A couple of times a week we let Daisy follow us around in our huge vegetable garden. As long as she mainly ate weeds, we let her join us.
Old Moonlight, our magnificent Arabian stallion, was a patient with little people. This gentle giant allowed toddlers to run under his belly, a three-year-old child feed him carrots, two little people sit on his back and little girls braid his mane and tail, all at the same time. Through the entire ordeal, Moonlight barely flinched. If he balked at all, I would look him in the eye, pray that peace and love would soothe him, and he immediately calmed down. God's creatures sense the peaceful presence of the Creator.
Visitors were amazed by our cat's behaviour. They always curled up beside our hunting dog because he was soft and warm. It was also a conundrum to local farmers who had never seen anything like it.
Then there was Mickey, a tomcat, who always followed my husband around the barnyard as he did chores. One morning, Mickey was sitting on top of a fence post when a cow licked him right into the air, till he was standing only on his back feet. Afterwards, Mickey merely sat back down, shook himself and calmly turned his head to look right at Michael.
Yup, on our little farm, all God's creatures were definitely transformed by the Love of the Father.
The cat shall nurse the bunnies and the hunting dog shall lie down with the kitten; the cat shall stand up to the cow, the goat shall be part of the family and the pigs will sleep after prayers.