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.