On October 4 each year animal lovers celebrate “World Animal Day” in kind remembrance of Saint Francis of Asissi, the poor man who considered animals and all of nature as his brothers and sisters.
Of course St Francis is now considered to be patron saint of 1) animals, 2) environment, 3) environmentalists, 4) ecologists and environmental scientists 4) San Francisco and 5) All people named Francis. The Mass for All Creation was once celebrated on October 4 but is now celebrated in the Sunday nearest October 4. I attended the Mass at our Carmelite parish. There was a lot of dogs, birds, cats, fish and of course the snakes and lizards. After all snakes and lizards are creatures of the Creator. There was a cacophony of barks and meows and chirps.
Saint Francis is believed to have preached to birds, fish and tamed the man-eating wolf of Gubbio. Francis believed that all animals and nature praise God. This was a rather unusual theological position to take in the Middle Ages. The Judeo-Christian tradition teaches that man is master of nature. But how did God intend this mastery to be? What is obvious that God gave this command to be master of creation before the Fall. So tradition teaches us that we have lost what our primacy over nature really is due to Original Sin. Saint Francis reminds us that we can still recover this primacy only through Jesus Christ who has redeemed all of creation.
Scientists know that the root of environmental problems lie on how we use resources beyond what we really need. Recent Popes on the other hand have said that the problem is really a moral one. This is supported by non-Catholic religious leaders too such as the Ecumenical Patriarch, Jewish Rabbis and Muslim Imams and of course the Dalai Lama. John Paul II wrote a strong message for World Peace Day in 1990 that links peace with environmental protection. In his inaugural homily, Benedict XVI said that the “deserts”[ referring to the environment] we have created reveal much about our “interior deserts”. It should be noted that Benedict is an animal lover and once patron of an animal welfare society.
If the environmental problem is also a spiritual problem, then what could be the solution? Francis who held fast to Catholic beliefs believed that the Eucharist held the key. In the Eucharist, Jesus becomes truly present under the appearances of bread and wine. Here creation is again made Divine and so it will be once more, nature renewed. In the Eucharist the Master is really a Servant and no one will be Master unless he/she becomes a Servant. This is probably how are primacy over nature should be. We can only be masters if we are with nature and not separate from it.
So Happy World Animal day. We should reply, same to you since we are animals too, much loved by the Creator.