For a period of my life, I had the joy of having pets, cats to be exact. My first Siamese cat was named Mouchette. she was friendly, unafraid and very smart. She taught me everything I know about taking care of cats. This may seem unreal to those who have not had the experience of tutoring a feline, but those who have know exactly what I mean. Then I added Marcello; and when Mouchette died I bought little Leo. After Marcello died, Leo became my last pet. I loved the beauty of having a creature of God live with me, but I did not like the sicknesses and the death of these beautiful creatures.
However, I remember my joy when I entered my room in the rectory and was greeted by little Leo. Everything else in my room was a product of man, but Leo came directly from the hand of God. And what an awesome design and intelligent purpose was contained in that little feline! Of all the things that I can say about having a pet, the greatest is this: Leo helped me to pray. This simple creature really can bring us to God!
Because we are so surrounded by man’s creations in the city (but they are ultimately and derivatively from God!), I try to go on retreats to pray in Monasteries which try to live close to nature for these very important purposes.
As I write these words, I am sitting in a room provided to me in a wonderful monastery in upstate New York called Mount Saviour Monastery. I have been coming to this holy place for over 40 years. It is where I made my priesthood retreat. Nestled in a beautiful landscape, this community of Benedictine monks (founded in 1951) have been living a life dedicated to prayer. Day in and day out, night and day, they pray for the Church. Yes, these men actually pray for you and me every day at every hour! Prayer is the most powerful force on earth. It can move God! I often think that it is the contemplative wing of the Church (both monks and nuns) that keep us from self-destructing as a world!
Right now, I can hear the song of birds as I pray that these words may move you good people of Immac to a deeper life of prayer, for the most important fact of our lives is that we are loved by God and willed into existence by this Love.
The world of nature is a reminder to me of the fact of God’s love. The beauty of it! The majesty of creation! We can so forget this when we are surrounded by the man-made things that we see day in and day out. Even these, if properly understood, can speak to us of God. For it is the creative and productive parts of the human mind that make these things. And who made the mind of man? God, of course. But this thinking is abstract and does not have the power of a sunrise or a flower or the playfulness of a puppy.
But as Pope Francis has often reminded us, we can lose sight of the need for us to have proper stewardship of this creation that God has entrusted us with. We need to care for the earth and not exploit the creation of God. This goes beyond partisan considerations. It is not a political position to care or use the creation of God. We must respect the ways of God and even correct and supplant things of nature. While natural disasters happen apart from our actions, we can learn to forecast and build things that will withstand these disasters.
Creation is not finished. It is up to us to work with God to make things safer for all living beings. We need to build proper habitations that can withstand earthquakes. We need to have plans in place to deal with floods and plagues. Look at how quickly we produced vaccines for COVID-19! We can do it. We must do it.
In addition to the wonderful sounds of nature, there is another that eludes us especially in the city: Silence. As I listen to the silence, I can hear, in the distance, the ‘bah bah’ of the sheep on the hillside. A rumble of thunder. The summer sound of crickets. In about an hour or so the monks will gather in the Chapel to chant Vespers (Evening Prayer). It is so easy to see that all is right with the world, at least here on Mount Saviour.
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” – Psalm 8:3-9