Lent Day 23 – Beasts of the Earth

by Bishop Robert Barron

During Lent, we may spend time doing battle with what we call our “animal passions.” But this may not be the right way to put it because God’s covenant is made, not just with men and women, but with the animals as well.

I know this sounds strange to us, but that is because we are the heirs of modernity, a philosophical movement that tends to separate human beings radically from other animals and from nature. Modernity sees nature as, at best, something that might serve us or be mastered by us. But God has a much more integrated vision of things. All creatures, coming forth from God, are ontological siblings—brothers and sisters. In finding oneness with God, we find, ipso facto, oneness with the rest of creation.

This idea is reflected in much of the great tradition prior to modernity. St. Thomas Aquinas says that vegetables, plants, and animals are ensouled like us. In fact, the word “animal” just means “thing with an anima, a soul.” Thomas Aquinas saw us as part of a great chain or hierarchy of being. For the modern consciousness, we are, essentially, the masters of nature, and this is part of the problem for us, of course. We have so mastered nature that we are, effectively, alienated from it.

The Bible would have named this as one of the faces of sin. Sin, the caving in on oneself prompted by fear and pride, effectively cuts us off from each other, but it also cuts us off from the non-human world around us. It cuts us off from our love for it, our curiosity about it, our care for it, and our fascination with it. (This was one of the major themes in Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’.)

But Jesus, in his own person, joins together the disparate elements of creation, the spiritual and the material, angels and wild beasts.


Want more daily reflections? Be sure to sign up:


  • concerned citizen

    Reading Pope Francis Encyclical “Laudato Si” is an eye opener at least for me. As the good bishop mentioned, we were brought up to think that we are the masters of the universe and are free to do whatever we want with it. But Pope Francis said that when God gave Adam and Eve the right to rule over His Creation, it was not an absolute right. It meant to take care of it with love and wisdom.

    Pope Francis also tied up our love of neighbor to our love of God’s creation. Man’s abuse of creation is also a derivative of his own selfisness – his lack of concern for what may happen to his fellow men and to future generations as a result of this abuse.

    • ber

      So true concerned if we respect each other we would not destroy things that we share wise words

      • Mary Hilchey

        Destruction – I agree People can beTHOUGHTless. We are rationale human beings and fail to use our rationale wisely and THOUGHTfully

        • Barbara Ann Baugh

          Mary people can also be clueless. How many people know about the huge CAFOs that are destroying our environment. CAFOs are concentrated animal feeding operations. They are small areas where hundreds of animals are crowded together where they are fed at bins there is very little room for movement and in the case of dairy cattle they are up to their udders in their feces. Their fodder often includes the feces of other species
          I am low income so it is hard for me to afford range beef and cage free eggs but I try.

      • concerned citizen

        Ber, just as some do not care about the unborn baby or the dying elderly, some do not also care whether his factories cause pollution to the air, his wastes kill the fish in the river, his cutting of the forests without reforestation deprives the animals of their environment. Just as some care only for their convenience,for their career, some also only care for the profit of his business regardless of its effect on God’s creation.

        It is so interesting to note that Pope Francis is living up very well to his namesake, St. Francis who is his model for his love of the poor and love of God’s creation.

        • ber

          It’s hard concerned to figure out why people are so blinded the devil has blinded us I feel so sad for the young the greed of people I must include myself as I like my comforts is depriving of them of their heritage we pay the best minds in the business to guide us and they are failing where will it end sorry I try to stay positive but anyone looking at the state of nature can only groan and say what have we done ????

  • Anton D

    Today’s reflection is something for me to thing about and it is interesting, regarding nature and us.

    Laudato Si’ link:

    • Barbara Ann Baugh

      Thank you for the link I have saved this and will read it in its entirety at my leisure

  • Anton D

    Just a thought, we live off Living things :
    – vegetables, plants, and animals to have natural life.
    – Body of Christ, the Living food to have spiritual Life / Eternal Life.

    • Mary Hilchey


    • Nancy Rynders

      A great analogy.

    • Elizabeth

      And that is why we are to assert our beliefs and return back to words such as sacred and reverence. When we consider All living things, including man, are sacred. We then revere life in all.that is on this planet.
      I think of the Native Americans when they had Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims. The Native Americans at that time believed in the sacredness of all things and when they sat down with the Pilgrims they were thankful to use what nature gave them, they creatively figured out how to utilize all of earth’s resources with reverence.And replenished the earth with their creativity.
      In turn the Pilgrim’s where thankful the Native Americans showed them how to survive in a foreign land, thankful for the food on that thanksgiving table (harvest time) and thankful for survival of another year.
      How did we arrive at today’s chaos of living – man’s greed overtaking the sacredness of life. Therefore, reverence for person, places and things gone.
      However, we should not despair. We do have person’s of faith in today’s society working to makes positive changes – look around and find those who are leading by the Grace of God and follow and assist them to make the difference we all are looking for as children of God.

  • Jane


  • ber

    It’s interesting that when God wanted to punish mankind he used those very elements is nature more responsive than mankind all the signs are there that we use and abuse it there is no limits we are prepared to go with it to indulge our needs even though we know we are destroying it I guess if we look at it we can include ourselves in that if we are saying to the creator its I want I want but put little back the young children are growing up to a world where sea and land are so pluited they will become so sick and yet they are still building nuclear power station God help us where will it end another big bang ????

  • nimaju

    Sin, the caving in on oneself prompted by fear and pride … What a tremendously simple but accurate definition! When I sin, I am caving in on myself because I am fearful and prideful. Remembering this, I think, can help me to recognize and avoid the temptation to do so …

    • Elizabeth

      Another point to think of is when greed enters a person’s thought, it is then it is me against you attitude. Want not need is then part of the equation.

  • patsola238

    It was a a series of reflections on Paradise Lost that brought me back to the church. I finally understood that the garden is still here, and we are charged with caring for it. All of these things – the love, the privilege, the gift, the evil, the pride, and the selfishness – are with us in every generation. That’s how I understood what Pope Francis meant when he said, “YOU cannot be indifferent to politics.” (My emphasis) We MUST take care of the garden. There is no “somebody else.” It’s OUR job. We must do it for the sake of all who live and who will live. It is a direct means of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

  • kayeloney@cox.net

    Well I am so glad to hear this from a trusted Soul. I have always thought this but Priest have said No. I will have to read Pope Francis Encyclicial Laudato Si. I agree Adam and Eve were the care takers of the animal’s and the garden. In God wisdom we are also care takers of all these thing’s, and must pray for your brother’s and sister’s of which we are also attached. God Bless.

    • Elizabeth

      And St. Francis of Assisi also brought this lesson home with his love for animals and nature.

  • Nancy Rynders

    This reflection is definitely applicable today….we have damaged so much of the natural world by USING it, instead of respecting it. This has led to a shortage of resources, genetically altered wheat that causes health problems, and much more. Can we turn it around for future generations? Let’s hope so.

  • Powderman

    I’m confused Bishop Barron – can you please help? What is the difference then between man and animal? I thought man was created higher than animal and plant due to the existence of his “immortal rational soul.” I never understood this to mean man has the right to disrespect other creation – simply that we are different and unique from all of God’s creation due to the unique power of the human soul to act with reason – this being carried out of course by living the virtues and living them well (which I would also understand to mean loving and respecting all of God’s creation). Is this understanding wrong?

    • concerned citizen

      Please see below my reply to Fidel.

  • Judit Veres

    Thank you for your authentic and true words bishop Barron. It’s really good to hear these things from a priest at last. I sens a move in humankind nowadays in this direction: towards the oneness of the creation (humankind one with the fauna and with the flora, and that the earth is our body and our body is the earth). :) It gives me hope in a better future where we can find our way back living in union with nature.

  • Alicia

    I ask God to make me aware always of my surroundings. Any where I go I pick up one piece of liter. Although hard to look at & some would say gross, if I see a dead creature on side of road, birds, skunks, rats, dogs & cats I acknowledge their life for that one split second, & the purpose it fulfilled, then I thank God.
    My parents taught me to leave wherever I go improved when I leave. I have lived in apartments and I always leave behind a plant, or sprinkle a bag of flower seeds along a fence, & sometimes I plant trees.
    Through ones busy life we can in tiny ways make a difference! Our Father has entrusted us with such a treasure! It is up to us to gingerly care for it and we can begin in small ways. Holy Spirit open my eyes not only to my sins but to My responsibility to care for Our Father’s Creation. Thanks

  • Fidel

    Fr. Please clarify: Your use of “ontological siblings” and “anima” seem to imply that animals have souls. Also, God’s covenant with the animals? My understanding, thru the Scriptures, that only man was created by God in His own image and was given dominion and sovereignty over all creations.

    • Gary

      I agree Fidel.

    • concerned citizen

      Animals have souls, in the sense that a soul is the principle of life. But their souls are not the same as ours. For one ours is rational. Secondly, ours is spiritual and therefore thirdly, our souls do not die after we die. In contrast, the souls of animals are material and they die when they die. At least, that is how I remember how St. Thomas explained it.

  • Joseph T. Garcia

    ” If today , you hear His Voice ” , “Harden not your Hearts ” .

  • http://www.irishmike.org/ Michael Lee Cornwell

    Hi all,

    This hits home for me in the respect that my Dads mother was of Cherokee heiratage.

    If you know anything about Native American relationship to nature you know they respected nature and the living creatures such as bears as protectors, eagles and so forth.
    Before the great but tradgic “Trail of Tears”, Cherokees were farmers in the Carolina’s. When they would fish in the creeks and rivers, they would dam up a portion of it catching fish, take “only what they needed for that day or so and release the rest, repeating the same as needed.

    They were not wasteful people. Everything they took from nature had a purpose.
    As silly as this may sound to many Anglo-Saxtons a Native American, in many tribes would apologize to a tree
    before they cut it down, tell it what it would be used for (a house, a boat etc) and then, often thank the tree for giving up its life for the service of another.
    To them that tree had a “soul”.

    As has been mentioned, waste and rape of “mother earth” has become the norm , justifying it as a part of progress”! Economics would claim ” it is less expensive to burn a section of forest to build a road then to have donated the lumber to build houses. Burning got the forest benefits no one…. donating the lumber changes lives!

    God has a format for the world for “the balance of nature”.
    Once more, when we interact with something, we change it and even after centuries of “interaction with nature”, we still fail at learning from our mistakes!

    Time for a trip to “the sweat lodge”!

    The Prayer Warrior

    • Elizabeth

      Michael, we have more in common than being Catholic. My daughter-in-law has Cherokee heritage as well. I will send be sending your info to her. Thank you and God Bless you.

      • http://www.irishmike.org/ Michael Lee Cornwell

        Thank you, Elizabeth!

        Prayers and peace,


    • Dude_Abides

      What a great meditation from Bishop Barron.
      Hey Michael Lee perhaps we share some of the same bloodline as my fathers side had some Cherokee ancestry too!
      He was born an raised in So. Carolina and loved to grow his own food; even when he moved away – joined the Navy at 18 and came west. Boy did he have a green thumb, the size of the vegetables, melons and corn we grew was incredible; we even had banana trees, back in the lower forty, that produced the largest bananas I’ve ever seen. Now, when I go into the grocery store and look at the junk green’s/veggie’s they offer up for sale I often think of my ol’man.
      Just think back when I was 4-5 yrs old going out to our strawberry field and picking the sweet ripe strawberries and eating them until I got sick. I also remember when he and my mom would can preserves and jellies of apricot, strawberry, various other vegetables and fruits, even pomegranates and take it over to our church to give to the priests and nun’s. He taught me a respect for the land, the soil that we grow our food, he didn’t use chemical fertilizer – this was back in the sixty’s when these miracle chemical fertilizer/pesticide products were being pushed. I suppose he was ahead of his time (or just old school), as today we see a push back of the chemical, Monsanto, GMO poisons from a more conscious citizenry.
      Yes we also had chickens and a few pigs. For our beef we’d go to a neighbor a few miles down the road. Everything we ate was ripe and fresh. And we said our prayers and gave thanks for the blessing’s that our Lord provided.
      The point I’m getting at is that the vast majority of Americans don’t know where their food comes from. They wouldn’t know how to grow a carrot. They don’t have a clue because our modern society has disconnected them from the process. They think everything comes from the supermarket, the big warehouse suppliers, etc. Unfortunately they are lost and sadly I have to admit so am I as I have fallen away from those teaching’s/practices of my father. I have some fruit trees but I do not grow anything from a garden. I have pined to do this for the past several years now and I can’t honestly say what has stopped me. But after reading this morning’s reflection I am going to do it! I’m going to start a garden. Thank you Bishop Barron and everyone else on this thread.
      “Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.” –Cree Indian Proverb

    • ber

      Respect Michael it’s long overdue

      • http://www.irishmike.org/ Michael Lee Cornwell


        True! People today, spent more time trying to get ahead then trying to get along!



  • Dayna Ellis

    Abortion, the scourge upon the unborn. When will it end? Technology with ultrasounds has made this such a visible sin. Pray for those who have committed these atrocities and continue to pray for our nation. Never be silent. God has put us here in this world for a purpose. I thank God for the precious little one which I refused to abort, because he is now living a wonderful and fruitful life. He served our country and now sits on our City Council. But, I also have to remember and pray for the mothers who did abort their babies. Their pain and anguish must be hard to live with. May Jesus and our Mother Mary bring them mercy and comfort.

  • Katherine

    I definitely see what your saying, but I’m having a hard time understanding how we both master nature to the point of being separate from it and worship it to the point of wanting to protect it even to the point of desiring the end of humanity (the extreme environmentalism). I can certainly see both but how do we both become masters of nature and slaves to it at the same time? Both are so out of balance.

  • Patrick Cassidy

    The idea that we are above beasts can also be attributed to pluralism, where soul > body. Animals are typically seen as not equal to humans (some animals have the same intelligence as children fyi), and that our intelligence lets us be masters over them. But, the fact is that we are made of the same stuff as these animals, and we function in almost the same way. The key difference between man and the rest of creation, is that we were created in the image of our Father. But, the same spirit that flowed over the waters in Genesis is the same live giving presence of our Lord to all life.

    While pluralism is very tempting, even amongst puritanical sects, the fact is that body is just as iportant as body. Yeshua took upon our flesh to save us. If that was not needed for the suffering aspect, then that would’ve shown that the soul > body, but that is not the case.

  • Penelope

    We are dog sitting for one of our children, Mitsy is her name. Lots of time constraints, as we have to add doggie-attention-time into our daily routines. Right this minute, my husband is out in -30 below weather taking Mitsy for her walk. Brrrrr. I am reminded of how different times were when I was raising my children.

    Mitsy reminds me of how much God blesses us, and I appreciate more and more during these later days of my life, how much creation can bring to me. She loves alone time with us, and she cries with pure love and joy when we return home – we have been at our Diocesan Lenten Mission the last two evenings….one more evening alone to go for her…

    I was always happy with my alone time with the Lord, a quiet place, no distractions. That is my way of prayer, contemplation in silence, closed eyes, nothing to distract me. But, once in a while the Lord shows me something new, calls me and draws me to His creation. Birds will sit on the window sill just outside the window of my quiet room, and I hear their little feet on the sill, and their quiet noises, sounds I can’t hear when they’re sitting in the trees. My heart lifts.

    On November 10th of last year, during my morning prayer time, I was feeling quiet distressed about one of our children’s situations. I read a reflection in a book I use. The author wrote: “If we notice a single simple thing in this world – a flower, a wall, a puddle, a birdsong, a voice, a face – we have entered a realm of prayer. Paying attention is where it begins.” “Choose one small thing to notice, observe, and ponder. Allow it to take you deeper into your own life and faith.”

    This is not my usual way of reflecting, but as we stepped out the door to go to Mass – remember it was November 10th, 2015 – I saw one little purple flower under the small tree in front of our home. I was surprised, because my husband had just cleared out the little garden area in the front of our condo, it was Fall and everything had dried up. As the days went by, each time I left the house and returned, I would see this little flower. And one day I saw that this little flower had grown into a WREATH OF FLOWERS! They stayed that way until our first snow. I decided to take a picture of my little wreath the morning of our first snowfall, because the little flowers were still peeking out from under the snow. Then came the big snowfall, and that was it for the flowers – or so I thought!

    I kept wondering about them under the snow, because I felt that it was a sign from the Lord that He was very present in this situation with my son. Then in February 2016, three months later, we had a thaw. What an amazing blessing – there they were, just as before, still blooming, still in the shape of a little wreath.

    I have learned through these experiences how wonderful God’s creation is and how much he speaks to us through his creation, and, how much we are called to be good stewards of His creation.
    What an awesome God we serve!

  • vabukka

    Wow, I really love this reflection! One thing that was hard for me, coming back to the church years ago, was that some people seemed to think that to be a “good” Christian, you had to scorn non-human life. It’s a relief to know that isn’t the Christian view!

  • Gary

    Do animals [man excluded], have souls? I don’t recall coming across that in scripture. I had a Yellow Lab dog which I loved dearly. She behaved badly at times. I hope she didn’t go to hell.

    • http://www.irishmike.org/ Michael Lee Cornwell


      Here is the Church’s definition of the soul.

      The Blessed Mother was once asked, by a visionary, if there were animals in heaven. She said there was! She said nothing about animals going to hell!

      The link:



      The Prayer Warrior

      • rtclovesmac

        So if this is the Church’s teaching, then how could one conclude that other parts of God’s creation do?

        Yet in another post Catholic answers post say they do, but they are different.

        For me, I trust that Heaven will filled with all that is pleasing to the Lord.

        • http://www.irishmike.org/ Michael Lee Cornwell


          That would be the best answer, personally speaking!


      • Gary

        I think then that I should have been born into this world as a dog. That way I would be assured of going to heaven.

  • Barbara Ann Baugh

    “For the modern consciousness, we are, essentially, the masters of nature, and this is part of the problem for us, of course. We have so mastered nature that we are, effectively, alienated from it”. Not just “alienated” from it we are destroying it. I try to do what I can to not use the planet to badly (reusable shopping bags etc.) but I am lazy. When I do get out in “nature” it is often for exercise (I cannot afford a membership the YMCA) . Then is a nasty task like washing dishes. The one part of God’s creation I do enjoy is the dawn, I always pray at this time.
    I do have an indoor kitty who is my constant companion, And I have at thanked God for her.

  • http://findmeinflorida.wordpresscom Tampa Lady

    I went for a walk with our beagle this morning on our local walking/running bike trail. He is Alfie our five year old beagle. He makes me know that God has a sense of humor because he is part of creation and pulls me the whole way. It made me appreciate creation between my huffing and puffing to take care of me, something I kind of do for Lent. On the way back I saw a tree with blooming flowers. Spring in Tampa Bay Florida ! Nice. This Lent is going to go somewhere. It is not all hopeless and drudgery. We need to appreciate the nature around us. I have learned so much from that dog. I have learned so much patience from him.

  • rtclovesmac

    At first , my inclination was to disagree with his take that this is a modern view, but honestly after reading some of the posts, I see the point that where we are at in today’s world is that we do not love as We want God to love us. Sort of like the liturgical readings earlier about the king who forgave a debt to a member of his court, yet when given the same opportunity failed to do the same.

    I truly believe that by the grace of God we have the tools necessary to do the right things the right way at the right time for the right reasons…yet we choose to be selfish and prideful in dealing with his creation.

  • Linda Dokey

    Wow! I have never looked at it this way before. Knowing facts is much different than seeing through the eyes of God. Thank you Bishop Barron! GOD BLESS

  • Marilynn Pavlov

    I just love this meditation. It broadens the human perspective to rightly place us alongside the rest of God’s creation, not as superior to it.

  • C Boyle

    “vegetables, animals and plants have souls….” Well, I guess that means that they are eternal. On the upside, my dogs will go to heaven….though I think brussels sprouts and ragweed are definitely going to hell. I would give serious thought to becoming a vegan, but I’d still be killing my brother/sister, the carrot. Can’t eat rocks….quite the dilemma! Silly tree hugger stuff, I guess even bishops don’t get everything right……