The doctor was a tall, lean, eccentric man. No one knew quite what his medical specialty was, so instead of calling him “Doctor” they just referred to him by his first name. He didn’t take offense. He was not a Green Ridge native, but he might as well have been. He was a farmer’s son, an outdoorsman, a river rat. He rented a small apartment above the general store. He was welcomed and accepted in a way few outsiders enjoyed.
Nobody knew his religion either. He seemed to take an interest in the Church, but whether this attraction was borne of devotion or research was unclear. Though he lived just across the street from the building, he always arrived to Mass at the last minute. He never ventured in farther than the vestibule. He stood hovering in the back throughout. Because of Petey.
Petey was a large,jowly, good-natured yellow labrador.
Among the good doctor’s eccentricities was a “love me, love my dog” attitude that went far beyond anything Green Ridge had ever seen before. It wasn’t like the soft and simpering “dog moms” of decades to come. It wasn’t belligerent or confrontational. He never pushed the limits of small-town decorum. The man simply would not go where the dog could not come.
And so, Petey assisted at the Holy Mass along with his master. There was never a bark or whine. He simply laid himself at the doctor’s feet and waited, patiently, until the liturgy concluded.
To my childlike eye, Petey’s presence (and behavior) was a small miracle. A dog at Church! And such a good dog! With God, all things were truly possible. It was just as the Eucharistic prayer had said: all creation rightly gives him praise. Canines were not an exception to that cosmic rule.
Petey has long since gone to whatever reward God provides for pious dogs. But I thought of him and the doctor at the Easter Vigil this year. During Mass, two red paper wasps, recently roused by the mild weather, whirled lazily among the chandeliers. The little boy in front of me perked up and gestured excitedly at the ceiling before being restrained by his mother.
Even the wasps stir themselves for the great feast of Easter. “Awake, O sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
Our churches should be a sacred grove where all creation meets to praise Him. It is rare (and often inappropriate) that this truth should manifest itself in such a real-life way as Petey the dog. This more often than not leads to distraction from the things of God, although it may be a welcome reprieve from the shortcomings of man. Instead, it is our duty to fill our holy places with art that helps us meditate upon this truth:
The Lamb of God. The Seat of Wisdom. The mother pelican. The panting hart. The ichthys. The dove. The friendly beasts of the Nativity. Even the tiniest golden songbird perched on an altar bell. All point the way toward their Creator, calling us to worship with them.
However, from time to time nature cannot contain herself, and she breaks in upon us to increase our sense of wonder and awe. In France, a stag bows his head to the tabernacle in the church of St. Eustace. In the Americas, a hummingbird sits, seemingly transfixed by the Eucharist. Even the mundane bats swooping over the belfry or the ant crawling along the back of the pew can be a sign to those of us with childlike hearts:
“Father, you are holy indeed, and all creation rightly gives you praise. All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit.”