Sunday, September 5, 2010


Though I might cite C S Lewis or Cardinal Newman more in homilies, those who know me know the great regard I have for the insights of Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince. I (without much joking) refer to it as “one of the most important works of sacramental theology in the 20th century.” And so I wonder if this is why, of all the special guests I have at the rectory’s back yard, my favorite critter is the fox.

So last night’s visit by the fox was an especially happy time for me. It had been a long time since I had seen a fox in my yard (which is not fenced in, and which butts up against woods). Everyone else is pretty well a regular: raccoons, possums, armadillos, turtles, squirrels, snakes, rabbits (and moles, drat it). And of course I feed them: scraps from supper, ends of bread, and so on. It’s a pleasure to watch these nocturnal creatures enjoying a meal.

And last night all I put out was stale bread. But there was the fox—silvery-grey, skittish, ears always up and tuning in all sounds, having a snack. It didn’t last long.

He was rudely bounced from “Club Rectory Yard” by a raccoon. The contest lasted only a few seconds, and though the fox waited around off to the side for a short time, finally he accepted the inevitable and returned into the woods. If anyone thinks raccoons are cute because they are frequent visitors at state park campsites, that person needs to be disabused of the thought. They are (for their size) ferocious animals, not to be trifled with. The fox knew this.

I have a friend who was afraid I wanted somehow to make a pet of the fox, when a pair of them first appeared a couple of years ago. I was taken to task that they were wild animals by God’s design and not to be “kept.” And I fully agreed.

Still, I did want to “tame” the fox in the sense of Saint Exupéry—to create ties of relationship, to make a friend (not to possess): Si tu veux un ami, apprivoise-moi! “If you want a friend, tame me!” the Fox told the Little Prince. And it begins patiently, just looking at each other—recognizing that you are in fact “others.”

How long does it take to “tame” another (or allow oneself to be “tamed” by another)? Commercials for on-line dating sites suggest that 1st dates can (and should) lead quickly to relationships (these days a code-word for being sexual partners) and marriages. But it’s not that easy—not if the idea is for the connection to last. Il faut des rites, the Fox said. Some rituals are necessary, including taking the time, going slowly and gently, accepting the idea of otherness and not falling in love with a fantasy, an artificial construct of the mind, instead of the person him-/herself.

Prayer is my allowing myself to be truly who and what I am (for better and for worse) in the presence of God who loves me. It is my patient and gentle opening of myself to God. Of course I cannot ever truly hide myself from God, but making the choice to be open actually opens me to myself—I come to see myself honestly (perhaps for the first time). And letting myself be tamed changes me—friendships formed in this way make me different, and better—they make me more aware of and sensitive to things that otherwise I would have ignored. I am led to cherish what matters to the one who has tamed me. This is true in all deep friendships; how much more so when I open myself to God in this way?

This is the lesson (the sacramental lesson) my backyard fox teaches me.

1 comment:

  1. Father, it's been a long while since you prepared an essay about nature - I remember a trip you took to the great Sequoias and noted the little creatures along the path - it was an invitation to God's world and one happily remembered. It's amazing how 'The Little Prince' can be thumbed through many times, each time selecting another 'pathway' to one's inner psyche. To use one's creative talent as Antoine De Saint-Exupery did, has given another creative talent a blog to stir one's sense of the Divine.