My dog, Mattie, just cannot get close enough to human beings. It really doesn’t matter who it is, she’s never met a stranger. If you sit in a chair and give her any indication that you’d like for her to come over, you’ve pretty much opened yourself up to the gradual progression from pat on the head –> paws on the lap –> large Labrador Retriever sitting on you. If she could get any closer to you she would. We joke that she would jump into your body if she could.
Mattie isn’t unique among canines, of course, and there is certainly a life lesson for all of us in the life of our dogs. It seems they love without condition. And they crave our touch, our affection, our speech, our very being.
“Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you….” (Job 12.7)
God has given us so many signs and wonders to show His love. He made us and all of creation out of love in hopes that we would return it with thankful hearts. But not only did he wish to give us the beauty of creation, he went further. He gave us the fullness of Himself.
When He saw that we were not returning His love and depriving ourselves of His grace, he poured Himself out to get as close to us as He possibly could – by entering the womb of a woman and being born to walk among us. And that love was still rejected. He hung on a cross.
But He did not allow that to be the last word – he continued to pursue us. He walked out of that tomb and sent us His Spirit to live within and among us. And He continues to show up every time we gather together at Mass to enter our bodies and nourish us with His love.
It has been told that St. Francis of Assisi preached to the animals. Sometimes I think Mattie preaches to me.
Last month (I know I’m a little behind!) we celebrated the Feasts of Saints Peter and Paul, whose impact on the Church is unmatched.
Peter was a fisherman by trade, a simple man lacking a theological education. The accounts of him in the Scripture show him to be somewhat impetuous and lacking a filter between brain and mouth on occasion. At times clueless and cowardly, still Peter earned great trust from Jesus. Peter was nothing if not loyal and became an inspiring preacher and leader in the early days of the Church. Notice the difference between the man who cowered when Jesus was arrested and the man who boldly preached the Good News of Jesus in the second chapter of Acts.
Paul was a highly trained theologian and philosopher who studied under one of the great rabbis of his time, Gamaliel. His intellectual sophistication was matched by his passion. In fact, Paul was so zealous about his faith that he regrettably participated in persecuting Christians because they believed Jesus was the Messiah. Paul was blinded by his zeal, so the Lord stopped him in his tracks and literally blinded him. Jesus needed a guy like this – someone who could help the Church unpack the beauty of Jesus and His teachings as the fulfillment of the First Covenant, someone who would have the missionary drive to start churches, someone who would complement ‘the rock’ on whom Jesus built His Church.
If at any point you get down about disputes in the Church, just remember that these two great leaders butted heads on occasion – most famously in Antioch where Paul opposed Peter “to his face because he clearly was wrong” about refusing to eat with Gentile converts who were not circumcised. (Galatians 2.11)
We will always have disputes in the Church, but we trust in the Spirit of God to move in and through all of us in our diversity of strengths and gifts just like He did with Saints Peter and Paul. But at the end of the day, we are united under one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. And on the feast day of these great men, we remember that both were martyred for that, not because of their disagreements.