Things We Can Learn from Dogs and Cats

Here at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish in Washington, D.C., we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi with the blessing of the animals. Although most folks bring dogs to be blessed, there are usually some who bring cats and a few other animals like ferrets. Once, someone even brought a snake!

In the past I have shared a list of things we can learn from dogs. When I was growing up, we always had a dog, so although I did not compose the list below, I can vouch for its accuracy.

Over my years of city living as an adult, I have grown accustomed to having cats (they are great mousers in old rectories). So I set my thoughts toward composing a similar list of what I have learned from cats. They are such independent and self-assured animals! They really let you know who’s boss, but mitigate their arrogance somewhat with clownish play and affectionate “head-butts.”

God speaks to us in all of creation, including our pets, to whom we are often so close. What is God saying? Many things!

So here is my list of what I have heard God say through the cats I have loved over the years: Tupac, Katy Bell, Jenny June, Gracie Girl, Rita Hayworth, Ellen Bayne, Jerry McGuire, Benedict (Benny), Daniel, and Jewel. Some of them lived in the alley and a few in the house, but they have all taught me things. Here are a few pearls of wisdom they conveyed:

  1. If you can’t get your way, lie across the keyboard until you do. (Be persistent.)
  2. Keep them guessing with meows and long looks to keep their attention. (Mystery attracts.)
  3. When you’re hungry, meow loudly so they feed you just to shut you up. (Get your needs met.)
  4. Always find a good patch of sun to lie in. (Simple pleasures have their place.)
  5. Life is hard and then you nap. (Be well-rested.)
  6. Climb your way to the top; that’s why the curtains are there. (Be resourceful and creative.)
  7. We are Siamese if you please. We are Siamese if you don’t please. (Be yourself.)
  8. Purr often and use head-butts judiciously. (Express gratitude.)
  9. Sleep on their clothes and personal items so as to leave your scent. (Forget-me-nots have their place.)
  10. Use your litter box. (Be clean and polite.)
  11. Be a mouser. (Earn your keep.)
  12. Clown around and do silly stuff. (Be humble.)
  13. Run around wildly for no apparent reason; chase toys and laser pointers. (Exercise often.)
  14. Rest in hidden places. (Solitude has its place.)

The following list of things we can learn from dogs has been making the rounds on the Internet for years, but it really is rather instructive. Dogs do have a lot to teach us, and I thank God for the dogs to whom I have been close over the years: Prince, Missy, Molly, Taco, Salsa, Chili, Kaila, Lucy, Clancy, and many others. And again, although others compiled this second list, I can affirm through much experience how true it is!

Fifteen things we can learn from dogs:

  1. Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joy ride.
  2. Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
  3. When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
  4. Let others know when they’ve invaded your territory.
  5. Take naps and stretch before rising.
  6. Run, romp, and play daily.
  7. Eat with gusto and enthusiasm.
  8. Be loyal.
  9. If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
  10. When someone is having a bad day, be silent. Sit close by and nuzzle them gently.
  11. Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
  12. Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
  13. When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
  14. No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout. Instead, run right back and make friends.
  15. Delight in the simple joys of a long walk.

Happy Feast of St. Francis!

All creatures of our God and king
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Earth, Air, Fire, and Water: Great and Yet Terrifying Blessings

Given the terrible storm that has devastated parts of the Caribbean and is bearing down on Florida as I write, it is possible that questions come to mind. There is certainly a violent component to life on this planet. We might even play on the words of an ancient hymn Dies Irae, dies illa. Yet what we experience as violent in one region can usher in blessings for the wider planet. Among other things, severe storms help to moderate the large difference in temperature between the equator and the poles. Regardless of any positive impacts, though, the local effects can be devastating.

Still, we ought to consider that some of God’s gifts come in strange and terrifying packages. The book of Job says,

The earth, though out of it comes forth bread,
is in fiery upheaval underneath (Job 28:2).

Yes, we live just above a fiery cauldron, separated from us by a thin membrane of earthly crust rife with cracks through which fire routinely flares, a crust that is always shifting and even shaking violently in earthquakes.

Yet were it not for this violent cauldron beneath us, it seems unlikely that we would have life here at all. Volcanoes and other tectonic activity keep our soil rich and recycled. In this fiery cauldron are brewed some of our most useful minerals and beautiful gems. Whole island chains and land masses are formed by eruptions and geothermal energy is a resource we have only just begun to tap. Many scientists think that volcanoes had a profound influence on the formation of an atmosphere in the early Earth period and that the molten core of the earth has an important influence on the Van Allen belt, a magnetic field that keeps the harmful portion of the sun’s radiation away from the earth’s surface.

Job had it right: some of God’s gifts come strange packages. The earth’s capacity to bring forth bread is directly connected to the fact that it is on fire beneath. Yet what a strange and terrifying package this gift comes in! Volcanoes and other seismic activity have claimed an enormous number of lives and a huge amount of property.

Water, such a rich source of life and blessing, can turn in a moment to utterly destroy life in huge numbers. Floods and tsunamis can sweep away vast areas in a flash.

Yet who can deny that without water, life would be impossible? Ah, water; nothing more life-giving and nothing more deadly. Yes, some of God’s gifts come in strange and terrifying packages.

I have often wondered why so many cities throughout the world are built on or near floodplains and along the “ring of fire,” with its volcanoes and fault lines. Of course the answer is plain enough: it is in these very areas that some of the richest soil and the greatest resources are to be found.

God’s and nature’s most life-giving gifts are but a few degrees separated from disaster and instant death. We live on the edge of an abyss because that is where life is found.

It’s such a thin line, really. Mors et vita duello, conflixere mirando! (Death and life compete in a stupendous conflict!)  To live is to cheat death.

All of the basic elements and forces: earth, air, water, and fire, are so death-dealing and yet so life-giving; somehow they are all part of the great cycle of living and dying that God intends.

Only God is existence itself; the rest of us are contingent beings and part of a cycle. Only in union with Christ, who said, I am the life, will we ever cheat death. As Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, “Christ gave the earth the only serious wound it ever received, the wound of an empty tomb.” With Christ—and only with Christ—will we one day give the earth that same wound.

For now, we live above the cauldron upon a thin crust; beneath us burns a tremendous fire. Somehow, mysteriously, it is the source of our bread.

The earth, though out of it comes forth bread,
is in fiery upheaval underneath (Job 28:2).

Yes, some of God’s greatest gifts come in strange and terrifying packages.

The Testimony of Creation to its Creator

On this “World Day of Creation” we ponder the glory and power of God in what he has made. One of the painful paradoxes of our time is that our scientific insights have increased unbelief rather than belief. Perhaps as never before we have come to know the astonishing interplay of creation at every level. From the smallest parts of atoms to the farthest reaches of space, from the complex interactions within cells to the almost perfect sweep of earth’s orbit, everything seems gloriously orchestrated so that we can live and grow. Even in the upheavals of storms, such as we have recently experienced, and other natural disasters, God and creation are often up to something good.

Just a simple thing like photosynthesis silently serves life. Plants take in the carbon dioxide we exhale and return the oxygen we need. Beneath us, the earth is a cauldron that occasionally shakes or erupts, but those very eruptions release gases that help sustain our atmosphere. Earth’s orbit is nearly circular; the distance between the Earth and the Sun differs only by about 3 percent between its closest and farthest points. This relatively constant position moderates our temperature. This is in contrast to the other planets in our solar system, whose elliptical orbits are far more eccentric. The moon beautifully regulates our tides. The asteroid belt keeps the dangerous chunks from regularly raining down on our planet; Jupiter and Saturn are catching comets as well. I could go on, but at every level—inner space, the ecosystem, and outer space—everything works together in a beautiful symphony.

There is an old spiritual that says, “Over my head I hear music in the air, there must be a God somewhere.”

The whole universe shouts, I was designed and I am governed!

Recently I put together a video for use in a Bible study I was conducting. The song that is used speaks beautifully to the testimony of creation to its Creator:

The spacious firmament on high,
with all the blue ethereal sky,
and spangled heavens, a shining frame,
their great Original proclaim.
The unwearied sun from day to day
does his Creator’s power display,
and publishes to every land
the work of an almighty hand.

Soon as the evening shades prevail
the moon takes up the wondrous tale,
and nightly to the listening earth
repeats the story of her birth;
whilst all the stars that round her burn,
and all the planets in their turn,
confirm the tidings, as they roll,
and spread the truth from pole to pole.

What though in solemn silence all
move round the dark terrestrial ball;
what though nor real voice nor sound
amid their radiant orbs be found;
in reason’s ear they all rejoice,
and utter forth a glorious voice,
forever singing as they shine,
“The hand that made us is divine.”

Enjoy the video.