Tag Archives: love

Lent with My Dogs

For Lent this year, I’m going to try to be more like my dogs.

Now before any of you very serious traditional Catholics run for the Rosary beads, hear me out. I’m not talking about eating out of a dish on the floor, barking to go outside or visiting all of the other dogs in the neighborhood like my Great Pyrenees does. No. What I’m talking about is learning from my dogs about some of the amazing things they do that people seem incapable of doing.

People who know me well know I spend an inordinate amount of time with two very white dogs – the aforementioned Pyr, and an aging, yet very playful, West Highland White Terrier. If you don’t know me well, you might guess this from the fact I’m constantly covered in white fur.

I like them better than I like most people. Even when the Pyr drools all over my leg for a pretzel or the ¬†Westie erupts into peels of high pitched barking every time the washing machine switches cycles. Its not because they’re cute and furry, although that does help (especially when one of them just ate an entire birthday cake or switched the gas on the stove on trying to get to an apple pie).

It’s because dogs know how to love unconditionally.

I’ve been observing them now for some time and I’m really not sure exactly how they do this. I know they don’t forget things – like when they’re punished, or dog shamed, or where the treats are. And I know they aren’t stupid – the Pyr can open doors with knobs and the Westie can hide his toys successfully from the Pyr. And I saw a lab on tv last week open an armoire refrigerator and find the peanut butter.

It seems that when they greet me with uncontrolled enthusiasm at the door, watch over me when I’m sick, snuggle with me at night and try to sit on my lap (the big one, not the little one), its truly because they love me and are happy in my presence.

I don’t know a human, even those who I love and love me most, who has never been angry with me, showed me distain, let me down or felt unloving toward me at some point. I have a way of torquing everyone I know off at some point. That’s just me. And I’ve paid for it in human relationships (hence my preference for animals).

But Max and Penny, those white furry angels, forgive me anything – unnecessary vet trips, tripping over them, buying the wrong treats, staying out too long, etc, etc. Sure they’ll show annoyance, but they’ll be back in no time for an ear or belly scratch, or in the Pyr’s case, a full body hug, like nothing ever happened.

I wonder often in their presence about this amazing trait. From what other dog lovers tell me, this is a hardwired thing in almost all breeds. They know how to forgive and forget. They KNOW nothing in life is more important than the power of love. No wonder dogs are man’s best friend. Its too bad we’re not more like them. Or learn more from them. Incredible were the masters.

So, my Lenten promise to be more like my dogs. I will be making more concerted efforts to love people without conditions or limits. To forget about the things that rub me wrong and remember that I myself am broken. To spend more time out of my house and my yard and with other human beings. And to learn more about my own shortcomings in loving other people for who they are – the image of God in a crazy world.

Yes, Virginia there is a Hell

Like many others, I’ve been having a hard time lately dealing with human behavior.

We seem to have developed excuses for everything we once agreed was unacceptable – things like murder, rape, theft, infidelity, character assassination, child abuse, etc. – and decided to live in a world where everyone can do whatever they want. We have even decided that its ok do things that are completely stupid and degrading because “we should be able to do anything we want to without the fear of (fill in the blank.)”

A few weeks ago at my Church’s annual carnival, I picked up a priceless copy of some essays by the Archbishop Fulton Sheen at the white elephant sale for a mere twenty-five cents. Its an old musty paperback from the late 60s, but its topics and messages are as contemporary as any bestseller on Amazon today. In particular, as they relate to human relationships.

One essay in particular has captured my imagination. Strangely enough, its about the existence of hell. Sheen assures us in the piece that, yes, indeed there is a hell. After all, doesn’t there have to be in order for there to be a heaven? Anyway, what’s really compelling to me is how Sheen describes hell. He doesn’t talk fire and roasting pits and blast furnace temperatures. No horns, pitchforks and spikey tails. Sheen describes hell as the absence of love.

At the same time I was reading Sheen, cops were being shot in the street, Jihadis were attacking France and Germany, Iran and North Korea were developing nuclear weapons, Christians were under siege in the Middle East, anti-Semitism was making a comeback, and every American was arguing with another over what could possibly be the two worst Presidential candidates in history. I was also lamenting my own personal loneliness, feeling out of touch with friends and family, and reeling somewhat from the unexpected resignation of our Church pastor.

I suppose the world was making me feel rather unloved. But I knew God was there with me, as I often imagine Him, standing behind me with His strong hand on my shoulder, gently reminding me that He’s given me the strength to push ahead. And then I thought of Sheen’s words – Hell is eternity without love.

There was a time, quite recently, when I could not see or feel God’s love in my life if I could not feel the love of other people. Both kinds of love – that of others and of God – were both there, but though the imbalances of depression, I was unable to know either. Quite clearly, it was the worst time of my life. Real or not, I felt the absence of love. Sheen’s description of hell.

Putting all of that together, the idea of hell came alive for me. I cannot imagine for a moment, let alone an eternity, living that way again. I remembered how I often felt I had fallen into a deep hole, the people I love happily living life above me, without me, within earshot. I had no hope that God or anyone else would throw me a line and pull me out. I wanted to die, but thought perhaps I already had.

Sheen’s words made me think harder. I thought of all the people diagnosed with depression or a mental health malady. I thought of the people I couldn’t save from suicide with my own love. Then, of those around the world who certainly live lives of greater despair than I will ever. I thought of those hungry, thirsty, homeless, poverty-stricken, put-down, disrespected, and forgotten. I thought of those who are Godless.

More and more everyday, our world seems to have less love in it. Perhaps its because we truly do not extend love to one another. Or perhaps, we’ve become so accustomed to pain that we cannot recognize love when it is there, often because of our clumsy ways of expressing it. Maybe we’re even beyond that. Maybe we’re so pessimistic about the good in our world that we make it a point, consciously or unconsciously, to look for hate. Maybe we expect it to be there because we’ve been hurt, and when we find reality is more complicated than our own experience, we feel the need to invent it.

Sheen described hell in his essay – but he never did say exactly where it is. If we don’t come to our senses, it indeed may be right here with us. On Earth. If it isn’t already.