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Crying with Saint Francis

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Apr 21, 2011

It’s the kind of story that brings a tear to the eye. Sister Michael Marie is off again on an international mission, this time to save stranded pets in Japan. The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart sister wants to be of service to all God’s creatures. A photo with the news story in the Columbus Dispatch shows Sister Michael Marie with a rabbit she saved earlier this year in Brazil.

It is true that many people bond to their pets, and feel a sense of relief in knowing they are cared for or being reunited with them. This may be difficult for non-pet people (like myself) to understand, but it is an undeniable fact. Sister Michael Marie worked as a veterinary technician before joining the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart twelve years ago. She undoubtedly has a special interest in and gift for interaction with animals. Yet it remains somehow ironic that she does her work under the aegis of a disaster aid group called “Kinship Circle”.

Apparently it is a broad circle.

But wait, you say, surely it is a beautiful thing for a person to work with and care for animals? Well, it certainly can be, if that reflects a person’s gifts and what God is calling him or her to do. For a layman in the same circumstances, we might comment only on the fact that it trivializes the priorities created by a natural disaster to mount a separate mission to support animals. In ordinary times, we would not be tempted to make a negative comment at all.

But Sister Michael Marie is not a lay person. She is living a consecrated life in the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, a religious order which, by its very nature, must be primarily concerned with the message of Christ and the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, all as applied to those whom Our Lord calls to be in union with Himself—those whom, in point of fact, Our Lord died to save.

For a religious sister to be mounting a separate mission to save pets is not merely a trivialization of the priorities created by a natural disaster, but a trivialization of the priorities created by Christ in the mission of the Church. It takes something that is not even on the list, and moves it to the top.

Perhaps that is why it brings a tear to the eye. Yes, and more than one.

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  • Posted by: sparch - Apr. 27, 2011 10:17 AM ET USA

    The disorder seems to be set in the hidden belief that creation is to be "saved" at any cost, including lost pets in terrible natural disaster. Man however is not part of that creation. That man is almost a virus that needs to be ignored (if not attacked), unless it is the men (women) who are servicing the distressed animals.

  • Posted by: Gaby - Apr. 25, 2011 2:07 PM ET USA

    I agree with New sister - I don't see how anyone in Japan could be worrying more about a pet than about relatives, friends, fellow humans & basic needs like food, water & shelter. This effort is seriously -& I'm a devout pet lover! AgnesDay believes that it's only wrong "if the basic needs of humans in Japan were not taken care of" - but they AREN'T!!! Sure there are many relief efforts for humans, but that doesn't mean basic human needs have been taken care of- far from it!!

  • Posted by: New Sister - Apr. 24, 2011 2:52 PM ET USA

    Yes, it is worth our time! In the context of human suffering in Japan, animal rescue is disordered, and made worse by a Catholic religious carrying it out. (a case where I actually prefer a sister to ditch her habit!) If owners’ separation from their pets, in the midst of such colossal human loss, brings this level of emotional trauma, there is spiritual poverty she ought to attend to instead – with the Gospel of Christ, man’s immortal soul, and his Redeemer Who lives.

  • Posted by: Cornelius - Apr. 24, 2011 7:42 AM ET USA

    I think bkmajer is right that this business of disordered priorities is a small matter in itself, but it points to the general corruption of many religious orders today that is a real problem. It is not for nothing that the Vatican ordered a visitation of these orders in the U.S. There are deep and serious problems here, of which this instance is but a symptom.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Apr. 23, 2011 12:34 PM ET USA

    I don't know why but your article bothers me. I recognize concern over misplaced "feelings" focused on animals instead of people with immortal souls as well as concern over misplaced understanding of vowed vocation to Catholic religious life versus sentiment. Cerainly one wonders why Leadership in Sister's Order allows her to continue. But isn't this one of those "pick your battles" issues? I mean with all the other stuff (abortion, anti-catholicism, etc.) is this worth our time?

  • Posted by: Miss Cathy - Apr. 23, 2011 11:59 AM ET USA

    I don't believe Jeff was criticizing the human affection or bond we have with pets. I do believe he was criticizing the fact that a Catholic missionary would prioritize the use of Church resources and her calling to go to a situation of great human misery, in order to "save the pets". When your home is destroyed and family members are injured or dead, somehow, Fido and Snowball move down the ladder of priorities.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Apr. 22, 2011 2:41 PM ET USA

    Sorry, Jeff, I don't agree. Human beings are the stewards of creation, and that includes animals affected by disasters. If the basic needs of humans in Japan were not taken care of, it would be wrong; however, the great anxiety of persons who own animals is the thought of their suffering. It is a tremendous relief for them to know that the animals are being fed and tended to. It also keeps disoriented animals from menacing people in relief efforts. At least Sister stays in habit.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Apr. 22, 2011 8:24 AM ET USA

    The anthropormorphism of animals seems somehow a hallmark of society today. Young "families" including "mom and dad" and a dog or two seem to be omnipresent in public these days. While pets can be a great thing, it seems that in general, this area is just one more example of the poorly calibrated sense of priorities among the mainstream today. Every time I see the neighbor pushing her pooch in its cute little baby stroller I turn away with the sigh, "That's just wrong!"

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