I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. –Ephesians 1:15-16
A saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness or closeness to God. –Wikipedia
It’s my devotion. So if I want to use All Saints Day to venerate my dearly departed doggie, I’m gonna do it.
Not that this won’t be met with some controversy, I’m sure. The debate over whether animals have souls has gone on for centuries. People are adamant on both sides. Even Catholic Popes have weighed in differently down through the ages.
Most recently, in 2014, Pope Frances made the claim that animals go to heaven. It made international press–too bad everybody was quoting somebody else by mistake. We don’t actually know what the Pope’s thoughts on pets in the afterlife are. I wonder if he ever had a dog?
My dog, Charlie, left this Earth yesterday, early afternoon. My wife and I don’t have kids, so Charlie was the third member of our family. We’ve had many tears as we’ve watched his cancer get the best of him. Saying goodbye to someone you love is so hard.
I’ll be honest–if you were to call into question the existence of a soul in Charlie, my wife would probably beat you up. So I don’t recommend that, at least not this week. For us, and millions of pet owners, the answer is obvious. The spark of creation, the capacity for love points to an unmistakable soul. Something God-given and eternal. Charlie has a soul.
Now, I’m gonna take it one step further. Can a dog be a Saint?
We have several definitions of “Saint” that we use in the church. They can differ from one denomination to the next, but here’s what we talk about in my church. A Saint is:
- Someone who has impacted the lives of others in a profound and loving way.
- A member of the congregation, living or dead.
- Anyone whom we have loved and lost.
Those are pretty roomy definitions, and designed to be that way.
The Catholic Church goes further: A saint (lower case) is anyone in heaven. A Saint (upper case) is someone “who has been formally canonized that is, officially and authoritatively declared a saint, by the Church as holder of the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and is therefore believed to be in Heaven by the grace of God” (Wikipedia)
I think Charlie would have to have performed a couple miracles (and be human) in order to be considered for canonization, (we’re talking Mother Theresa material), so maybe not the extra fancy description of Saint. But, looking at #1 up there, I’m gonna say he counts in my book.
For 12 years he followed/shepherded us everywhere we went. He cuddled, played tug, and seemed to know when we needed an extra dose of affection. He was incredibly smart–we counted well more than a dozen words or phrases he understood completely. He ran with Jan for years around Wyandotte County Lake, protecting her. He traveled around the country with us. And on the rare occasion when Jan and I would raise our voices, he would come and sit right between us.
I could go on, and probably never convince some that Charlie is being deserving of Sainthood. That’s okay. I suppose you’ll have to take my word for it — That dog taught me more about love, service and commitment then most humans ever will.
So, if you’re not a pet owner, consider becoming one!
And if you are a pet owner — I give you permission (which you don’t need) to call your special pets Saints, too. I figure, if the paw fits, wear it.
I believe we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and not all of them walk on two legs.
But hey, when you turn your eyes to God, you can go ahead and discern that for yourself.
It’s your devotion.
Have a great week,