In preparing the sermon for last Sunday’s services, I spent many hours discerning the Gospel reading where Jesus compares a Canaanite woman to a dog. From biblical times to today, comparing someone to a dog is typically meant to be an insult. The Gospel had me thinking at great length about my feelings towards dogs. I searched for ways to incorporate dogs into the sermon in a positive light, but was not so moved in the end.
At the start of this week when I examined the calendar I noticed Saturday, August 26 is International Dog Day. My heart called out, "See if Father Manny will let you write the article this week." Today the Spirit is moving me to celebrate dogs and God’s love present in our relationships with them (and other animals).
I am a dog person. I grew up with dogs and have had multiple dogs most of my adult life. However, it has not been until recently, since I started my journey of discerning my call to the priesthood, that I understood the depth of love that is possible - with dogs and other animals. Just as we talk about finding the Christ-light in each other, I believe the Christ-light exists in dogs, and all of creation.
It was winter 2018 when I was on a silent retreat at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth. It was there I began to feel the pull of God’s call. During the nine-day retreat, I spent hours walking the beautiful acreage in the rolling hills of central PA. That week I began to experience God and a love of creation in new ways as I learned to be still in nature and observe. As I drove home from the retreat I wondered what it would be like to transition back into my bustling household after over a week of living in silence, and if the love I found in stillness would be present. As I opened the front door, my dog Buster was the first to greet me. In his enthusiastic greeting, I felt a depth of connection, a connection through the Spirit, that was new and transformed and brilliant!
Buster hadn’t changed. My ability to connect with creation, seeking God’s presence in all things, and letting myself feel the Spirit stirring was what was new. All I had to do was trust that it was from God and allow myself to be present. Love was there. God was there.
I must admit it took a while to put words to how my understanding of love had changed, and I worried I may be stretching the concept of the Christ-light too far. I suspect for some people I am. However, as we head into International Dog Day, I profess my love of our furry friends and inspire fellow dog lovers to take a moment to seek the Christ-light in your tail-wagging companions, giving thanks to God for the love that we may find in all of creation. And, if you feel so inspired, contribute to a local animal rescue or help the founder of International Dog Day reach her goal of 10,000 dogs being adopted on Saturday across the country.
In closing, I share the words of acclaimed theologian Richard Rohr, from the dedication of his amazing book from 2019, “Universal Christ”: ‘I dedicate this book to my beloved fifteen-year-old black Lab, Venus, whom I had to release to God while beginning to write this book. Without any apology, lightweight theology, or fear of heresy, I can appropriately say that Venus was also Christ for me.”
Maybe we have a topic for an upcoming Theology on Tap!