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"In the Orthodox Churches they have kept that pristine liturgy, so beautiful. We have lost a bit the sense of adoration. They keep, they praise God, they adore God, they sing, time doesn’t count. God is the center, and this is a richness …"
— Pope Francis (8/2/2013)
The Barque of Peter: An Obedience School
published 27 May 2011 by Guest Author

At the risk of sounding like the author of something entitled, “Everything I Know about Religion I Learned from My Dog,” I will relate a bit of the less-than-heartwarming experience I’ve had recently with two stray dogs who now call our home their own. And not just our home, but everything in it: our chairs, sofa, rug, shoes, toys, laundry…anything that can be eaten or used as a toilet has been. Well, almost everything. Some things. Enough things to make me write a dog blog.

Wanting to find other accommodations for these chewing, barking, mess-making scamps after only a few days, I realized I would not have made a very good Mrs. Noah. Barely managing one pair of animals, I recoiled at the thought of many pairs of animals constantly arriving and then being trapped in a floating kennel with them for forty days. I imagined myself tugging at Noah’s sleeve, saying, “Oh, you want to send a dove out to find land? Oh no, no, dear, don’t do that. I’m a really good swimmer. Watch!”
S P L A S H !

For the sake of our children, I have tried to find some redeeming quality in these pets that would convince me to want them. Being that there are few stray sheep roaming our neighborhood, I thought perhaps I could look at these dogs as the modern metaphor for the lost sheep that we are, until finding the loving care of our good Master. But it doesn’t quite work. Unlike our good Master, whose heart burns with love for His creatures, or St. Philip Neri, who owned a dog and whose heart was so hugely enlarged that a couple of his ribs cracked, my heart glazes over into an ice block when looking upon these needy things. They are cute, but destructive. They are cute, but a nuisance. They are cute, but so hard to train!

I was grumbling (growling?) to my husband that the disadvantage of having a really wonderful husband and really nice children is that when I am even a little bit bad I come off looking like a monster. I can hear all the dog-lovers out there saying what a wicked woman I am, wanting to turn these darling pets out and break my children’s happy hearts. Well, it’s true. I am wicked.

But I did search my Bible the other night in desperation: Lord, how can I learn something from these animals, and so make this imposition profitable?
Here is what I read, from Psalm 40: Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me.

At this I laughed, because one of the dogs has the largest ears I have ever seen. One of our daughters named her “Lily”, but I thought we should have called her “Earanaeus”. (See photo.)

Then I began to think of all the ways God trains us to follow Him, how He has given us direct commands to make it easier for us to live happily with all the other creatures in our ken. There are punishments, there are rewards. But unlike dogs, who truly deserve their punishments for bad behavior as well as their rewards for obedience, we receive unmerited graces from the promiscuous generosity of our God. We also sometimes receive what feel like punishments in return for our obedience. Jesus tosses us cruciform bones, which, if we are faithful friends, we will pick up and carry as we follow Him.

As this is the Easter season and we celebrate the hope of resurrection, perhaps the fitting command is: “Play dead!” Then may we rise to meet Him, when the Master says, “Come!”

St. Philip Neri, faithful, loyal, playful companion of Christ, ora pro nobis.