In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul tells how all of creation shared in the fallenness of humans and “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). Further, as we enter into glory given to us by God through the death and resurrection of Christ, “creation itself will be set free from its bondage and decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). This all points to the beautiful gift of the Incarnation. When God became man, he changed the whole material, created world to have a sacramental meaning, to participate as much as each thing is able in him. His divine touch is in all of his creatures.
While St. Paul in Romans is ultimately talking about our longing for the redemption of our bodies in the general resurrection, we can see hints of this already in the world now as the Holy Spirit is transforming us daily to be more like God. Jesus tells us that kingdom of God is “at hand” (Mark 1:15). It is here now! And we can see this demonstrated in the lives of the saints and further in their interactions with animals and nature.
A new children’s picture book, Saintly Creatures: 14 Tales of Animals and their Holy Companions, by Alexi Sargeant, demonstrates beautifully this concept of the redemption of all creation, especially at the hands of humans living lives of heroic virtue. Sargeant gives simple, but engaging, hagiographies of saints from around the globe and throughout history — each of whom had a particularly special relationship with animals. Each story is accompanied by beautiful full-colored illustrations designed by Anita Barghigiani in a collage style with vining-border illustrations of various plants showing the beauty of nature.
This new book is one of the first released from Word on Fire with its new imprint Spark. Spark, as Word on Fire explains, was established “specifically for children and families,” creating books that “will use the power of story to introduce the truth, beauty, and goodness of the Catholic faith to the next generation.” Word on Fire plans to provide additional resources and tools to help parents and grandparents help children to grow in their faith and their understanding of it. Saintly Creatures lays the foundation for a bright future for this new imprint.
In his book, Sargeant tells stories of saints helping animals out of difficult circumstances and even taming them to live in harmony with the humans around them — pointing to the prophecy of Isaiah 11:6:
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”
The telling of the story of St. Francis of Assisi and the wolf terrorizing the town of Gubbio is particularly engaging, showing both the conversion of St. Francis and the transformation of the wolf. Other stories tell of animals assisting their saints in a special way by protecting or guiding them, such as the story of the great gray dog that frequently protected St. John Bosco from attackers who disliked his good works. And there are simple stories of the saints living peacefully in communion with animals, but also loving and caring for them, as God intended in the beginning (Genesis 1:26-28). The story of St. Germaine Cousin tells how she cared faithfully for her sheep, entrusting them to God each day as she went to Holy Mass.
Sargeant’s earnest storytelling shows children the virtues each of these saints lived out, be it hospitality to animals and others, courage in the face of martyrdom, perseverance in difficult tasks, kindness even when facing difficult people, and so on.
With his last story, Sargeant brings the reader to the modern day, telling about Blessed Carlo Acutis, who died as a teenager in the 21st century, and his love of his pets. Sargeant tells his readers that the story of Blessed Carlo “shows us that holiness is possible — for each of us, right now!” So, while some of the stories may seem remote from the life of a child living today, the book ends with a call to each child to look for ways to model their lives after these saints even in the modern world.