I love my dog, Haze! He's a good boy and I often refer to him as "my best friend."
Each time I do this, I get a dirty look from my wife as if to say, "What the hell am I? Chopped Liver?"
To which I usually reply, "If you were chopped liver, Haze would have devoured you already!"
But as great as my dog is, he is not my wife. And while he often awakens me to the unconditional love that God has for us, perhaps what he really awakens me to is the unconditional love that Marion has for me.
She is my "suitable" partner. As we note in Genesis, God first tried to give the man one of the animals for a partner but none really were "suitable" for the man until he made woman.
And today, while we celebrate the feast day of St Francis, a man we often associate with animals, we often forget how he really was a lot more than simply an animal lover. He was a radical lover of the poor and was so convinced of his calling that he stripped himself naked in the town square and offered them back to his rich father who would have preferred that he become part of the status quo.
Francis' responds: "Not Suitable."
How often we forget and relegate Francis to the garden. Sweet Francis with the birds and the animals and the prayer of peace. We forget that Francis was much more of a lover of all creation. While he loved brother dog and sister squirrel and other parts of our environment that we indeed all too oft forget--he loved humankind in all of its beauty and fragility.
Besides being Francis' feast day, it is also Respect Life Sunday. Many times we get two extremes of a message from the pulpit today. We might get a diatribe against modern society and the culture of death and sometimes we even see inconsistent messages coming from pro life groups, like when people blow up abortion clinics, stealing the headlines from those who do such great work for the unborn and their mothers.
Or we might get no message--avoiding the subject altogether because of it's hot button nature and within more progressive circles the message of pro-life gets sidelined because some don't want others to think that this is the only issue that Catholics think about.
Francis is an example for us today who tend towards those extremes. Francis was all about touching the leper as well as the birds of the air. His dedication and piety for the Eucharist mirrored his concern for the poor, in whom he would say always led him to God.
How does our work or our lack of work for the unborn lead us into closer communion with God and with each other? Or are we more concerned with political agendas? Do we draw closer not only to those unprotected in the womb but conveniently forget the needs of the one who brings them into the world?
Do I ignore my wife's needs because it's easier to love my dog who makes it pretty easy for me to love him without much of a challenge? Do I work at my marriage as much as I should? My other relationships? Or am I content with favoring an animal who loves me?
And as my dog's keeper, do I treat him with the respect he deserves as well, as a creation of our God as well? I sometimes even take him for granted and get lax in training him or walk him when it's convenient for me to take him instead of when he really should go outside for relief and exercise.
Francis calls us all to look more deeply at how we serve all of creation and not just the parts of creation that we might be most comfortable with.
Are we willing to be left standing naked in the town square for the good of the world? Or we will cling to something that prevents us from loving all creation and our God.
Your humble blogger is Mike Hayes, a well-known expert in the world of young adult ministry (20s and 30s) in the Catholic Church. Mike is the author of Googling God (Paulist, 2007) where he explores both the chaotic world that young people live in and their religious reactions to that world. He also explores the age of instant gratification and how churches can respond to the needs of the young adult age by using technology alongside more traditional ministry methods.
Mike founded the award winning BustedHalo.com® in 2001 and continues to contribute to it as the editor of their catechetical section appropriately named Googling God.
Recently, he left BustedHalo® to focus on more direct ministry with young people at St Joseph University Parish as a Campus Minister for the South Campus at the University at Buffalo.
He has only two loves: his adorable wife, Marion and a nine pound chihuahua named Haze, who still find him amusing enough to let them live in their home.