Deacon Rick Bauer

THE CATHOLIC REVIEW: Our Beloved Pets and St. Francis of Assisi

by Deacon Rick Bauer

Jesus used parables to illustrate important spiritual truths to listeners hungering to know about the Kingdom of God. Parables also serve to protect timeless truths from skeptics and nay-sayers. We are delighted to review an extended parable written by John Pearring, who is not a stranger to our diocese.

John served as the inaugural editor of our diocesan newspaper. Married to wife Joanne for 49 years, they live in Woodland Park. They raised six children and welcomed 11 grandchildren. 

But to this new book. Pearring asks the question that many of us think about — do animals get rewarded with eternal life? When eternity issues in “new heavens and a new earth”, are family pets and other less domesticated animals present? Instead of launching into a theological dispute (of which we have heard too many already), Pearring tells an imaginative, extended parable about animals, primarily of the wild. Akin to books like “Watership Down” and “Animal Farm,” Pearring looks at the animal world through the eyes of animals themselves, hoping to tell a story that mere narrative cannot adequately convey.

And what a tale he tells. We meet wild animals, first through a family of mountain lions with names like “Spit”, “Stare”, and “Snarl” (my grandkids are loving this already) and settle into quite an imaginative tale. Pearring shows us a wider world through the eyes of animals that we regularly miss. We see their higher and lower natures — not too unlike their human counterparts — and with a light touch shows us their values instead of lecturing what they should be more like. The narrative is more logos than ethos, showing us by revealing the realities of animal life rather than advocating ethical behaviors in general. 

Each chapter begins with observations of wildlife from an imaginative perspective, and the prologue of each chapter provides a scripture or spiritual writing about how both humans and animals are created by the same Maker with a given purpose. From Old Testament prophecy through New Testament apocalyptic, from monks to St. Francis of Assisi, our perspective on the limits of redemption is expanded to suggest eternity includes more creatures than our grade-school theologies had imagined. A wonderful book for adults and children as well, we are grateful for John Pearring and “Snarl,” and hope that thoughtful readers continue to dig deeply into this imaginative spiritual parable. And yes, we believe that “all dogs (and cougars as well) go to heaven.”

We are less than a month away from the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. Catholic parishes in our diocese have an increasing sense of the contribution of this saint, and also the opportunity St. Francis gives to engage an often-uninterested public with his message for our world should not be discounted. Perhaps a greater interest in the environment and the recognition of the interconnectedness of all creatures have helped Francis of Assisi ascend in popularity. At the Catholic Community of Fort Carson (part of the Archdiocese of the Military Services), where I served a few years as parish administrator, it was gratifying to see the entire military community — Catholics and Protestants, and pet lovers in general — participate in the annual “Blessing of the Animals” at Soldier’s Military Chapel on base. We see the same community interest at the St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Colorado Springs, where I now serve as a deacon. Can we take this general interest and help drive “the real Francis” a bit deeper?

Father Murray Bodo, a young Franciscan friar, wrote a unique book in 1972 about the life of St. Francis of Assisi. A mix of lyric prose and narrative, with scattered vignettes taken from the life of Francis and his disciples, quickly inspired thousands to contemplate the life of this famous saint and see him in a new way. Fifty years and over 250,000 copies later, this book continues to captivate readers, and Father Bodo has written nearly 30 books about the Franciscan way of life.  This book contains a new preface, written by Father Bodo, reflecting on his own embrace of Franciscan spirituality and lifestyle for over 50 years.

The stories, observations and reflections of life from the inner cities of our nation, particularly Cincinnati, where Father Bodo ministers to the poor and needy, are marbled with the words of St. Francis that still ring true today. They are stirring; they call us to a higher plane; and they loosen the bonds of this world just a little bit more so we can see heaven’s purposes more clearly.

If St. Francis has a certain place in your heart (or even if he doesn’t — yet), “The Journey and the Dream” is a wonderful book to bring you closer to this lovely saint’s perspective. 

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