Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation
Francis and the Animals
Francis and the Animals

The Emotional Intelligence of Animals

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Francis and the Animals

The Emotional Intelligence of Animals
Tuesday, October 5, 2021

I wonder what I ought to tell you about the friendship there was between me and a falcon? —Carlo Carretto, I, Francis

Carlo Carretto (1910–1988) was a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a community of contemplatives inspired by the spirituality of priest and hermit Charles de Foucauld. In this meditation, Carretto speaks in Francis of Assisi’s voice, combining Francis’ biography with what he might say to us today.

I was in a certain hermitage, where I had withdrawn to pray in peace.

I noticed that very nearby there was a falcon, with its nest.

We became friends. . . .

Then the falcon undertook to rouse me from my rest at the hour of prayer—at midnight, and again at dawn for Lauds. . . .

He always performed his duty with precision.

Once he even went beyond the call of duty.

He had noticed that I was not feeling well—and so he did not awaken me in the night, but only in the morning for Lauds.

I think God was guiding me by the falcon.

You can go ahead and smile. . . . But it happened to me, and I took pleasure in it all, even going so far as to hold conversations with all manner of creatures, and preach various sermons to them. . . .

I made an effort to make them understand that I was a friend. At first they were astounded and incredulous. But then they believed.

And they drew near.

And they listened to me. . . .

It was as if the dimensions of the Kingdom had been enlarged for me. . . .

It was as if the number of my sisters and brothers had become measurelessly greater. [1]

Science is beginning to confirm the intuitions of mystics throughout the ages, including Francis—that we share kinship with animals. Consider the insights from the fascinating book When Elephants Weep, which explores the emotional lives of animals. Author Jeffrey Masson considers animal relationships that surely transcend mere survival and can even be called love:

Lionesses baby-sit for one another just as house cats sometimes do. . . . Elephants appear to make allowances for other members of their herd. One African herd always traveled slowly because one of its members had never fully recovered from a broken leg suffered as a calf. A park warden reported coming across a herd with a female carrying a small calf several days dead, which she placed on the ground whenever she ate or drank: she traveled very slowly and the rest of the elephants waited for her. . . . There appears to be so little survival value in the behavior of this herd, that perhaps one has to believe that they behaved this way just because they loved their grieving friend who loved her dead baby, and wanted to support her. [2]

[Richard: I think we know so little about our ensouled universe.]

[1] Carlo Carretto, I, Francis, trans. Robert R. Barr (Orbis Books: 1982), 49–50.

[2] Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals (Delta: 1995), 78.

Story from Our Community:
We all share God’s bounty in this wonderful creation we call Earth. Although I have always treated animals as gifts from God, it wasn’t until Father Richard’s course on the Franciscan Way that my eyes were open to seeing the trees and flowers as our brothers and sisters, as well as the pebble I still kick down the street and the slug in my bird fountain. I am truly blessed to be one of God’s children. —Russell C.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 10 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to “Dr. B” as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image Inspiration: The simple scene of a cow grazing is easy to pass by without a thought – but it is also a holy moment. Sacred and mundane are found together in the form of an ordinary creature.
Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.