April 2, 2014: And God called all that He had made very good…

~by Susi Pittman

“Our pets aren’t our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” Many stewards of creation can absolutely relate to this quote, as established statistics of pet ownership around the globe indicates millions of lucky animals have a home with a human family. In the United States alone there are 77.5 million dog owners and 93.6 million cat owners. A huge statistic that would indicate if proper stewardship of the animals existed, there would also be extensive costs in health care and maintenance. Taking an animal into ones home requires a commitment in love and providing for the animals needs. And there are many good stewards that will say that they don’t see that as giving personhood to a pet, but it does reflect concerned care of a gift of creation.

For lack of a better word, a rather “unsettling” article titled, For the Love of Pets: The Growing Trend to Humanizing Animals, giving numerous observations and statistics on what is viewed as the humanization of pets, has publicly despoiled the truly good intentions of the good stewards in the world, whom I venture to say make up the majority, no matter the “poll,” a poll I might add that pulls on 20,000 people in a world that is closing in on 7 billion. These stewards truly take to heart what God asked of humankind in the Garden of Eden—to care for creation. (Gen.1:26)

This particular article leads the reader to believe that any effort to share life with an animal is trying to bring it into some type of “personhood.” There is absolutely no acknowledgement to the millions of folks who either privately or publicly act in responsible good stewardship with regards to their relation in the human-animal bond. It admonishes that “humans are special and deserve to be treated differently.” I couldn’t agree more. But, the human family of creation is part of a bigger family, one that this article seems to forget…that all creation is ONE family created as something “very good” by the Creator.

Humankind was the climax of Creation. As such, we were given an eternal soul that connects us in a divine and totally unique way with our Creator. Animals do not have the particular immortal soul that man has, but animals are given a particular good and reference is continually made in Biblical scriptures to the providence afforded them by God and the promise of eternal renewal.

Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection. [1]

Creation receives God to the extent that He allowed in His goodness for it to receive Him. Humankind and creation are interconnected on the journey to the glory of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

God willed the diversity of his creatures and their own particular goodness, their interdependence, and their order. He destined all material creatures for the good of the human race. Man, and through him all creation, is destined for the glory of [2]God.

The image of God was reserved for humankind…and the animals, by their design were reserved first for God, and then for humankind. All things deriving from God are ordered to one another and to Him, and all things will find their final perfection and rest in Him.

Jesus says: “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” (John 6:37)

Rightly ordered instruction in the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads:

Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute.[3]

Animals are Gods creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory.[4]

Animals and creation, animate and inanimate—all are created to glorify God and are ever subject to their Creator, who shares them with man. Animals were created to respond to God first and were given to humankind for what should have been the continued love and care given in trust by God.

Our Church history and what we are taught by it and the great Saints down through the ages,  differs greatly from the tone of the article in question. St. Francis of Assisi, one of Catholicism’s most venerable saints preached to the birds and called all of creation his brother and sister. “Kindness” to animals has always been supported. In a modern world, “kindness” moves in the realm of caring for animals in our homes. Many great scholars have made the connection that a person having compassion for animals is usually indicative of a compassionate soul for his or her fellow brethren. It has also been proven in many a psychiatric study that social psychopaths had early beginnings in a blatant disregard for animal life as they turned to animal torture and abuse.

Sharing with our children at a young age a reverence for life in all of its forms, has brought forth caring and loving citizens who value life at all levels. Parents being responsible in their home life and teaching their children the dignity and value of life at its most basic levels will do for the kingdom of God what the birth control pill did to de-humanize a generation of millions!

St. Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux was dominated by kindness to all living things and he once said, “If pity were a sin, I could not help committing it.”[5] He was so humane that he sympathized not only with his fellow man but with creation. St. Chrysostom said, “The souls of Saints are excessively gentle and loving to men—not only to their own people, but to strangers, and they show this gentleness even to brute beasts.” [6] In Catena Graeca, St. Chrysostom states:

“Does the just man pity the souls of his beasts of burden? Then surely we ought to show to them great gentleness and kindness for many reasons, but for this above all: that we may take by this means an opportunity to sympathise with them, because they are of the same origin as ourselves. For not without reason in the Law does God bid us raise up the beast of burden which has fallen, and bring back into the path the straying sheep, and not muzzle the ox which treads out the corn. He wishes us, therefore, to show great mercy to brute beasts. [7]

Those, therefore, who are compassionate towards animals imitate God and his loving kindness.

This certainly dispels the articles presentation that by caring for animals we are humanizing them and making ourselves more an animal. Our good care of creation only adds to our humaneness and humanity.

There are those who obsess over their pets and to an unhealthy extent. This is certainly an issue that needs attention and a re-direction to a more rightly ordered stewardship. But, this should not be blown out of proportion to be the “standard” of a world full of truly good stewards of creation. The “personhood” issue of animals will certainly not fall off the radar of the millions of Christians who indeed follow the gospel teachings and the teachings of the Church.

So, if we were to address the articles intent to lead us all out of the mire of humanizing animals, I would have but one thought; Creation and the animals call forth upon the human heart to reflect on the infinite beauty and unconditional love of the Creator. We cannot throw the baby out with the bath water!

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., paragraph 339.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., paragraph 353

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., paragraph 2415, (Cf. CA 37-38)

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., paragraph 2416, (Cf. Mt 6:26; Dan 3:79-81)

[5] Life of St. Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, by the Abbot Vacandard, Doctor in Theology. Vol. II. Paris: Victor LeCoffre 1895.

[6] Cornelius a Lapide, Burns & Oates

[7] The Church and Kindness to Animals 1906

Susi Pittman is founder of CatholicStewardsofCreation.com and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; an advocate for the Florida Catholic Conference; a member of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Council of Women in Jacksonville, Florida; an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine;a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.

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