Fur All The Saints

Charlie

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:

  1. Someone who has impacted the lives of others in a profound and loving way.
  2. A member of the congregation, living or dead.
  3. 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.

After all…

It’s your devotion.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Since my last confession.

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Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. –James 5:16

It happened again today.  I watched three more church members crossing the street and walking into the Catholic church down the way.  That was 8 people now, over the past few days.  What was going on?

I decided to find out.  I pulled on a hat and trench coat so as not to be easily recognizable.  I walked the short distance to the Catholic church and stepped inside.  It was a nice enough building.  I’d never been inside before.

Just then I caught a glimpse of my church members darting into the sanctuary, so I followed them.  I slouched down into a pew in the back, and watched them sitting over to the side.  Then, one at a time, they stepped into the small door on the side.

It was the confessional!  My people were sneaking into the Catholic church to take confession!

Confession was developed long ago, in the early years of Christianity, as a way of responding to James 5:16, above.  A regular, private, personal confession of sins, heard by a Priest.

When the reformation came, Protestants objected to confession, saying “Who says Priests are qualified to forgive sins?”  And some of the penance they prescribed included indulgences — basically a “pay you or your relative’s way out of salvation” scam.  So Protestants did away with the practice, replacing it with…not much.

Today?  According to an article in the Boston Globe, less than 2% of Catholics go to confession regularly.  And 3/4 don’t go at all.  Confession has become, for many Catholics, and unwelcome sacrament.

But what about us Protestants?  After 1,000+ years of very little opportunity for confessing sins, aside from the occasional corporate prayer, the idea of having someone to hand our heavy loads to doesn’t sound half bad.

Based on the actions of my (fictitious) parishioners, I propose a trade.  If Priests are willing to listen to our confessions, we’ll do something nice for the Catholics.  Give up red meat on Friday during Lent, maybe?  Treat our communion elements a little more carefully?  Something like that.  What do you think?

After my parishioners left the sanctuary, I made my way up front and climbed into that little box.  Finally I said, “It’s been…uh…at least 47 years since my last confession.”  Then I just kind of laid it all out there.  The little things that had been bugging me.  The big weights I was tired of carrying.  It felt really good.

But afterwards, I realized that I really could just ask Jesus for forgiveness directly.  Or talk things over with a friend.  Why hadn’t I made this a priority? I’ll admit I did feel a lot better, but not because of that confessional.  I felt free because I’d made space in my busy life to accept Christ’s freedom.

Let this be a reminder to us (Protestants and Catholics alike) that confession IS good for the soul.  Whether it involves talking to a priest or minister, or sharing with a good friend, or praying with a congregation, or holding nothing back from Christ, guilt is something too many of us carry around.

Put forth the effort and let it go.

Throw it away like a Hail Mary.

(I’m supposed to say 7 of those)

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Are you guilty of Supererogation?

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A Sunday school class at church has been studying the Methodist Articles of Religion.  This is number eleven and it caught my eye:

Article XI — Of Works of Supererogation

Voluntary works—besides, over and above God’s commandments—which they call works of supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety. For by them men do declare that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake than of bounden duty is required; whereas Christ saith plainly: When you have done all that is commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants.

Supererogation?  It sounds like someone who over waters their lawn.

I don’t think I’ve ever used the term before.  I had to look it up.  This statement, along with many of the other articles of religion, were written out of a Protestant response to Catholicism.

As best as I can describe it, Supererogation is over-doing it.  God expects X from you, but you do X2 hoping to keep the balance of your goodness in your own little spiritual bank account, that you can draw from on a rainy day.  (Or, to use to get out of doing penance for future wrong-doing).

Supererogation was one of Martin Luther’s main concerns when he launched the reformation.  His belief was that we’re called upon to do exactly what Christ requires of us — no less, no more.  To attempt to do more than is required is an act of impiety, going beyond Christs’s wishes in an arrogant way.

Although I’m fascinated with the Catholic perspective about this, I’m more interested today in how little this is talked about in churches I’ve been a part of.

I don’t think people are taught about supererogation.

In fact, I think we’re taught the opposite:  Serve Jesus till you drop!

The idea that Christ sets a limit on how much work you need to do would probably be a shock to several pastors I know, and church staff, and super-volunteers.

The whole Protestant work ethic prompts us to go-go-go!  That there is no end to the work we might do for Jesus.

In this article is the notion that Christ commands us to do only so much.  To do more than that is…excessive.  arrogant, even.

Maybe that is the main point.  There’s only so much we need to do.  There is no spiritual bank account to store your extra good deeds in.

There’s a reason for boundaries when it comes to work, even in Jesus’ name. Raise your hand if too much church work has ever burned you out before?

Perhaps you’re guilty of Works of Supererogation, driven by the notion that by working too hard you’re earning extra goody points. Don’t do that!

As the 4th commandment reminds us, life is about more than work.  Apparently Christ would have us discern that in our lives.

Don’t be lazy, of course.  And don’t be a workaholic, for God’s sake.

Just be a responsive, responsible disciple.

No less, no more.

Have a great week,

Mitch2927263748_e2a6e32e2e