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Dog Church

alec vanderboom

On Saturday, I attended my first blessing of the animals, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. What an adventure. After five years, I'm still not used to how Catholics manage to appear exactly 20 seconds before Mass begins. At 10:52, my family and my 11 year old dog were standing in an empty field beside our parish house. Did I dream up this event at 11 AM? I started making an apology to the kids, when more and more cars started to appear.

Soon there was a little circle of pet lovers. Mostly seniors, with three or four young families. The two cats were encased in crates and kept far from the dog pack. "Boxed Lunch!" exclaimed one of the girls. In reality, all of the dogs, including ours, was well behaved. There was only one dog, a Rottweiler, they said, who had to stay in his owners car.

We're in a new parish, so I didn't know anyone at the service. It was a friendly place to share your dog with other pet lovers. One woman asked if she could pet our dog. She said she just lost her dog a few weeks ago. "We're just cat people, now" she said sadly motioning to her husband holding their cat. Another mother timidly asked if we had seen her missing dog. "We live next to the church. Our dog ran away Thursday and we can't find him. Our other dog has become so depressed she stopped eating." No one had seen the dog.

Father came with a visiting priest from Togo, to start the service. It was simple, and sweet. Nothing odd about promising your dog will be with you in heaven. Rather there was a reminder that the animals are a part of God's creation. Animals were saved by Noah from the flood. Our beloved pets are companions who help us reach heaven. My husband, who is a steely non-crier, got a little misty thinking of how Sara has given us a feeling of protection and security even after our move to a big city.

Father gave a brief homily about how St. Francis told a wolf to stop hurting an Italian village. Then he threw holy water on each of the pets. Maria (age 4 months) was in her car seat carrier. "Is there another pet in there, Father asked, after blessing our dog." "Oh, she's a human." He laughed. "Well, here's little Holy Water for her too. Can't hurt!" So Maria got blessed also. At the end of the service, we prayed for the lost dog to return to his family.

Today, we were in the car on our way to Sunday Mass, when Hannah said "We forgot Sara!" I had to explain that we only did a special service once a year in honor of St. Francis. This message had to be repeated a few times.

Finally, Hannah knowingly said. "Yes, Dog Church is only once a year. Regular church is a lot of times a year."

I hope you each had a holy Sabbath.