From fierce and dangerous to shy and affectionate

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Understandably irate, as his entire body was covered with boils, Job demands that God explain why he has to endure so much suffering. In addition to his health, the once wealthy man has quickly seen a complete reversal of fortune: the loss of his livestock, the destruction of his property, the slaughter of his servants and, worst of all, the death of his seven sons and three daughters.

The Lord responds to Job, not by explaining divine justice, but by cataloguing the wonders of creation.

In case his voice thundering out of a whirlwind wasn’t demonstration enough of his power, God reminds Job that he created the fearsome behemoth and leviathan. (Some scholars believe Behemoth refers to the hippopotamus, a mammal that many zoo visitors do not realize is both aggressive and extremely dangerous, as well as huge.) God also mentions other animals, including the bear, the lion and the hawk.

But the God who speaks to Job out of the storm comes to Elijah in “a light silent sound” (I Kgs 19:12). The creator of behemoth and leviathan, the blue whale and Tyrannosaurus Rex, also created the hummingbird, the guinea pig and the koala.

Blessing of the Animals

The Catechism reminds Catholics that animals are God’s creatures and “men owe them kindness.” “We should recall the gentleness with which saints like Saint Francis of Assisi or Saint Philip Neri treated animals,” the Catechism teaches.

Father Edward F. Namiotka, pastor of Holy Angels Parish, blesses animals. He also blessed stuffed animals that children brought to school for the occasion.

Leaving aside the question of whether service animals and pets intentionally return such kindness, no one can deny that many people depend on them for chores, companionship and emotional comfort.

Even people adverse to videos of bad-tempered cats and calendar photos of sleepy puppies can appreciate the sentiment of the short story “Misery” by the Russian writer Anton Chekhov (1860-1904).

A dog gets plenty of attention at the blessing of the animals at Holy Angels School, Woodbury, on Oct. 4, the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, patron of animals. Photos by Alan M. Dumoff

Like Job, Chekhov’s character, Iona, is grieving. His son has died. A sledge-driver in Saint Petersburg, Iona struggles to get through his shift on a cold night. Trying to deal with his sadness, he attempts to talk with his passengers about his beloved son, but they are either drunk and belligerent or simply uninterested. The same with a fellow worker at the end of the day.

The final scene takes place in a barn, where Iona is with his horse, his constant companion in work. He is trying not to think of the son he will never see again, but he says, with only the horse to hear, “That’s how it is old girl. … He said good-by to me. … He went and died for no reason.”

And the story ends: “The little mare munches, listens, and breathes on her master’s hands. Iona is carried away and tells her all about it.”

The Book of Job has a happier ending.

The Lord, despite — or because of — Job’s complaints, says he has spoken rightly and blesses him with greater fortune than he had before: 1,400 sheep; 6,000 camels; 1,000 yoke of oxen; and 1,000 she-donkeys. More importantly, Job is blessed with more children — another seven sons and three daughters — and, his health restored, he lives to be 140 years old.

Still, one can picture Job in his old age on some restless evening, stroking the head of a farm animal and talking about all that had befallen him in his long life: about his good fortune and his trials and his extraordinary encounter with God, and also about the sons and daughters he still thinks about, even though they were killed many, many years ago.

Carl Peters is the managing editor of the Catholic Star Herald.