Father Frank Mann
I have often wondered why the Lord chose me to be a passionate participant in His merciful plan to care for so many of our animal brothers and sisters. This is certainly not a path that I have chosen on my own.
Last week, for example, I found myself (once again) in a very precarious situation – this time on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. I had left early from the parish where I am in residence to officiate at a gravesite service for a baby who died shortly after birth. It was, unquestionably, a harrowing experience for the parents.
As I exited the Grand Central Parkway at 30th Avenue in Astoria, I spotted a creature on the shoulder of the road. It looked as if the truck in front of me had hit some kind of bird as the animal fiercely tumbled multiple times and slammed against a concrete wall. I looked for a space to park my car and ran quickly to the possibly injured creature. I managed to pick it up (after much effort as it was repeatedly flapping around) and ran back to the car with sweat pouring down my face. It happened to be an adorable baby pigeon. Luckily, it had not been injured.
Thanks to my dear friend Jeannie, this little creature and others like it, are taken into special, loving care until they are either rehabilitated or ready to fly on their own again. It never fails to amaze me. God always seems to find multiple opportunities to call me to some kind of “rescue.” When I was very young, I remember taking a walk with my dad along Montauk Highway in Long Island.
Suddenly, without any warning, my dad began to run out into the middle of the highway. I was totally stunned and taken by surprise. Although there were no cars to put him in any immediate danger at the time, I still could see vehicles in the distance and worried about what might happen. I saw him bend down in the road and pick something up and then place whatever it was in the green moist grass on the side of the highway.
When he returned, I asked him what had transpired. He told me he saw something crossing the highway, and if he didn’t act fast enough, it would have gotten killed. It happened to be a turtle. Little did my dad know that his compassion that day would be a pivotal catalyst for a major transformation in myself. I unquestionably saw in his act of selfless mercy that all creatures are worthy of genuine care and profound respect.
Pope Francis spoke so eloquently about this a few days after his election when he said, “For me, Francis of Assisi is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.”
The Holy Father followed up that observation in a tweet with a call to compassionate action and a challenge for us to be “agents of mercy.” He stated, “Let us keep a place for Christ in our lives. Let us care for one another and let us be loving custodians of creation and the environment in which we live.”
What struck me most in his Urbi et Orbi message on Easter Sunday was: “May the risen Lord make us responsible guardians of all creation.”
The ever popular St. Francis of Assisi not only spoke about compassionate action and mercy for animals and fellow humans, but he also taught that such kindness to all creatures is a hallmark of good spirituality and fosters loving relationships among all of us.
“Not to hurt our humble brethren, the animals, is our first duty toward them – but to stop there is not enough,” he wrote. “We have a higher mission – to be of service to them whenever they require it. If you have people who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have people who will deal likewise with other people.”
Pope Pius XI commented, “St. Francis was led to love all things which he knew had the same origin as he, and in which he recognized the goodness of God. For he followed his Well-Beloved everywhere and in every trace of Him to be found in His creatures. He made of all things a ladder to reach His throne.”
Pius also said, “St. Francis represented the spectacle of kindness towards all and goodness pushed to establish friendship not only with human beings but with all creation: and that not only in speech, but from his heart.”
A Father’s Example
I recall yet another occasion in which my dad inspired me to follow the spirit of St. Francis. It was an unquestionable gesture of his luminous generosity.
While returning home on a bitter cold winter day from the city (after I purchased a new winter coat for him at Christmas), dad stopped the car to help a shivering homeless man sitting on a curb. He went to get a cup of hot coffee and a sandwich to give to the dear soul. Then he proceeded to clothe him with the new coat I just purchased for him with my allowance money!
I was rather stunned and incredibly lost for words that day (and I wasn’t too pleased that he gave away my Christmas gift to a stranger). But as the years passed, I clearly saw that my father was a person who truly walked humbly with God and sincerely tried to make a difference in the lives of others – more by his actions than just mere words.
The heart of Christianity is uniquely all about saving and rescuing. It’s all about salvation from sin – from darkness and despair. Salvation history is abundant with stories of rescuing those who are in pain, the lonely, the depressed, the downtrodden, the suffering, the grieving, the addicted, the abused, the outcast, those who hunger and thirst.
Saving and rescuing is all about asking the Lord, as St. Francis did, to make us instruments of His peace. It means answering the clarion call to be an authentic witness of hope. Undeniably, being committed to the Gospel mandate means that we strive to focus on protecting God’s created life from all kinds of danger or distress.
Respecting life demands heartfelt love and tender care for the well-being of every creature. Do we not wondrously participate in the transformative, salvific plan of our Creator when we seek every opportunity to be a cause of joy to all whom we meet by our love for God in action? This was the great vision and gift of St. Francis of Assisi to the world and to the universal Church as well.
Blessing in Woodside
I invite the readers of The Tablet to attend a special day of blessing for individuals and their pets on Saturday, Oct. 5 at St. Sebastian’s parish in Woodside. What will be so special is that the blessing will take place with an authentic piece of the actual tunic that was worn by St. Francis. What an awesome occasion this shall be!
The relic will be on loan to us for one day (with gratitude) to Father Russell Governale, O.F.M. Conv., pastor of St. Adalbert’s Church, Elmhurst. Each person, animal or pet will be blessed individually (and not as a group) from the hours of 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
We will also unveil (and bless) a magnificent and soul-stirring statue of St. Francis donated by a parishioner in memory of her dear brother. There will be various animal adoption groups present, a flea market to raise necessary funds for animals in need of food and veterinary care and educational outreach from various animal welfare groups.
Please join us in the parish garden across from the parish center at 39-60 57th St. in Woodside!
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!