Ensouled Animals (by Dawn Carrillo)
I recently read this passage by theologian and Franciscan sister, Ilia Delio. It came to me at a time when I have been watching the decline in and nearness of death for our family dog, Frodo, a best friend, brother, confidante, and constant companion for my 18-year-old son, Gabe, for most of his life. Many of you are aware that Gabe happens to have Down syndrome, and he struggles to process the seeming finality and meaning of death. But in reality, don’t we all?
The excerpt below written by Ilia Delio has helped me. I will come back to it over and over as we come to the end of Frodo’s sweet life, re-forming Ilia’s concepts in simpler language for my son so that he knows of Frodo’s continued presence with us and of his life in God.
In the month of October, we honor and celebrate the changing of the seasons, the harvest of food to sustain us in the coming cold, brittle months of winter, and our beautiful Saint Francis of Assisi (October 4 feast day), who opens our eyes to the wonder and holiness of every fragment of Creation. May you, your furry loved ones, and all of Creation be blessed by the wisdom of Francis…
It is almost a week since our beloved cat, Mango, was put to sleep. . . .
We had rescued Mango a little more than eight years earlier. . . . He liked to sleep in the chapel and often joined us for prayer in the evening. Mango was real presence. And it is his presence that was sorely missed.
Recent questions in ecology and theology have focused on animal life. Do animals have souls? Do animals go to heaven? Without becoming entangled in theological discourse, I want to say quite clearly that Mango was ensouled. His soul was a core constitutive beingness, a particularity of life that was completely unique, with his own personality and mannerisms. To use the language of [Franciscan philosopher] Duns Scotus, Mango revealed a haecceitas, his own “thisness.” Scotus placed a great emphasis on the inherent dignity of each and every thing that exists. . . .
Each living being gives glory to God by its unique, core constitutive being. . . . To be a creature of God is to be brought into relationship in such a way that the divine mystery is expressed in each concrete existence. Soul is the mirror of creaturely relatedness that reflects the vitality of divine Love.
I did not have to wonder whether or not Mango had a soul. I knew it implicitly by the way he listened to me talking or thinking aloud, the way he sat on my office chair waiting for me to finish writing so he could eat, or simply the way he looked at me—eye to eye—in the early morning, at the start of a new day. Soul existence is expressed in the language of love. . . .
Love makes us something; it makes us alive and draws us in to the dynamism of life, sustaining life’s flow despite many layers of sufferings and disappointments. . . . If God is love, then the vitality of love, even the love of a furry creature, is the dynamic presence of God. . . .
Every creature is born out of the love of God, sustained in love, and transformed in love. Every sparrow that falls to the ground is known and loved by God (cf. Matthew 10:29); the Spirit of God is present in love to each creature here and now so that all creaturely life shares in cosmic communion. . . .
As I reflect on Mango’s death, his haecceitas, and the mystery of love, I have no doubt that his core love-energy will endure. His life has been inscribed on mine; the memory of his life is entangled with my own. My heart grieves for Brother Mango, my faithful companion, but I believe we shall be reunited in God’s eternal embrace.
Ilia Delio, The Hours of the Universe: Reflections on God, Science, and the Human Journey (Orbis Books: 2021), 235, 236, 237–238. Reprinted with permission by Ilia Delio, OSF.
Thank you Dawn for your lovely post, and for including Ilia’s very wise words and the wonderful phrase “every fragment of Creation.” Yes, every fragment is indeed ensouled.
I know how it feels to be with a dear animal friend who is getting ready to leave the family fold. I wish you peace and strength as you accompany Frodo to the threshold, and help Gabe to understand that loss.
Thank you for your comments, Ruth! Lovely to hear from you!
All life is sacred, and I am grateful to share in your process, Dawn.
I have had and still have many spiritual companions. And living on the lake in the woods, I witness and participate joyfully in the seans if life. The other day I buried a baby cub that had been hit and left in the middle of a busy road. I prayed for her peaceful return to our Creator. I trust that her Spirit is soaring.
I know deep in my soul that all of us are connected and caring for each other – our winged, four legged, swimmers, and crawlers is a calling and a blessing.
Thank you for your comments, Connie. Yes, indeed, her spirit is soaring…
This is what I needed right now. I rescued a poor kitten from a bad situation, and tried to save it. I gave it a peaceful transition. Rest in peace, little Dr. Gilman (named for town where he was living).
I am so glad it resonated with you, Mary Ann!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and those of Ilia Delio. Through my lifetime I have loved many animals and have always felt their spirits and a deep connection. As a child we had funerals for dead birds. Now, I just miss the friend that have gone on. When I see a photo I am reminded of the joy they gave me. God made all things in love and so we are a part of that great love, animals too. I look at the Goldfinches at the feeder and know they are blessings to me.
A message that I read and have shared is: “When we lose someone we love, we must learn not to live without them, but learn to live with the love they left behind.”
Perhaps that idea of love can help with your family with loss.
Beautiful words and message, Karen! Thank you so much.
Thank so very much for sharing this beautiful reflective piece by Ilia Delio.
Animals have always been a source of joy and learning. Observing, listening, reading and studying them has brought me to such an awareness of the deep spiritual gifts they have given me.
Ilia’s written reflection brings such honor to the animals that we share Mother Earth with and who are great teachers for us.
Deeply grateful for what you shared.
You are most welcome, Joan! Yes, they are wonderful teachers…
Two good and sweet and real encounters, your family with your beloved dog, and Delio’s with her cat. I appreciated Richard Rohr’s writing, and that of his many friends, during the celebration of the Feast of St. Francis. Truly, as Richard writes in the Prayer for Our Community, “Thank you for leading us into a time where more of reality is being unveiled for us all to see.” And as Walt Whitman said so wonderfully,
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long.
Thanks be to God for animals and “all creatures, great and small.”
Thank you for your comments, Warren! Yes, thanks be to God for all creatures great and small!
I am moved and am tearful after reading this beautiful reflection.
I was just told by my Vet this week that my friend and companion, Stella, may have lymphoma.
My heart is aching.
Oh Diane, I am so sad for you and for Stella. It is so hard…take good care!