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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Love – Gone to the Dogs?

March 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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Interior Freedom (Week 3 of 5)

In the present moment, because of his infinitely merciful love, we always have the possibility of starting again, not impeded by the past, or tormented by the future. The past is in the hands of the Merciful God, who can draw benefit from everything: the future is in the hands of the Providence of God who will never forget us. Faith keeps us from living as many people do, oppressed by a burdensome past and worrisome future. Living in the present permits our hearts to expand. – Interior Freedom, p. 83, Part II, Chapter 1, Paragraph 6

Love – Gone to the Dogs?

I think it’s possible that the above passage has completely nullified my disdain for this country’s obsession with pets. In fact, it’s beginning to dawn on me that there may actually be some rationale behind the insane $52 billion Americans blow on their pets each year.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t like pets. But when people throw around the ludicrous notion that “pets are people too,” I must admit to an occasional roll of the eyes and a sigh about the depths to which our appreciation for human life has sunk.  I was confronted with an extreme example of “animal affection” the other day when I watched a video called Evolution vs. God. At one point an interviewer asks several college students (each a self-professed atheist) the following question: “Your pet dog and your rotten neighbor are drowning – who would you save?” I was shocked to hear every respondent go for the dog. Really? Are we that far gone?

Thankfully, Fr. Philippe has helped me to make sense of the insanity.

Human Downers

First, I began thinking about the unique ability of human beings to ruminate on the past, or contemplate the future.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,' so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him(1730). 

Second, my thoughts turned to our fallen nature.  Unfortunately, due to our quest for worldly freedom, too often we fail to seek our Creator, and instead unwittingly use the gifts He's given us to destructive ends.

Face it.  The past haunts our human relationships.  Unhealed wounds smothering our hearts cause us to build up defenses for future encounters, stacking memory upon memory of past hurts – all the words left unsaid or the snide comments we’ve ignored or the times when she’s been late or the meals for which they are ungrateful (the list is infinite) – to be used like ammunition the very next moment we sense a repeat of the same. Frustration mounts, tempers flare and before we know it, we look back at said encounter only to realize that we’ve overreacted to some small innocent infraction…again.

And often we don't fare much better by setting our sights on the future. Heaven only knows how many parents have virtually destroyed their children because they parented out of fear and worry, rather than facing the moment at hand. If Junior doesn’t have enough friends, we fear he’s going to become depressed and antisocial, destined to make headlines as the latest school shooter to leave nothing but death and destruction in his path. If he has too many friends, we’re terrified that he’s sacrificed his soul for popularity in this world and we wonder how far he’s willing to go to maintain “approval’ status. And with such extreme fears to alleviate, we tend to take extreme measures to avoid them. More often than not we probably create the very monsters we’re trying to avoid.

Might Dogs Have the Answer?

Meanwhile, I'd like to introduce you to Moses, our joy-filled Labradoodle.  Before now, I'd never thought to offer Moses as a paragon of virtue.  But he actually does have his strong points.  Moses is a sloppy looking but intelligent mutt who never passes judgment. He is always happy (if his wagging tail is any indication), always seeking to please, and he never keeps score.  Instead, his only goal is to please us from the moment he wakes in the morning until he jumps into bed with the kids at night.

While humans ruminate on the past and fret about the future, dogs truly live in the here and now. And perhaps all that living in the moment “permits [their] hearts to expand.” They harbor no grudges. They carry no baggage. They set forth no expectations. Always seeking to give, they’re even happy to be our proverbial punching bag.

Given the alternatives, I can almost understand why someone would choose their dog over their “rotten” neighbor (OK, maybe not quite).  But in all seriousness, could it be that as a society, we’re choosing to take a step back from other human beings – people who share our neurotic propensity for brooding anxiety – and searching for friendship in less mine-infested fields?  Turning to our pets for companionship?

The figures support my new theory.  According to the National Center for Marriage and Family Research, the marriage rate continues to decrease, and young adults are holding out longer and longer before actually tying the knot.  Additionally, there has been a steady decline in birth rates in the U.S. over the past several years, including a steep 8% decline between 2007 and 2011, according to The Department of Health. Meanwhile, pet ownership and expenditures have reached an all-time high.

Perhaps we should be investigating this $52 billion figure? Maybe spouses searching for joy-filled marriages should be studying their pets. After all, if measured in monetary figures, clearly the happiness encountered in dog-human relationships is on the rise. And why not? When dogs are so unbelievably loyal, forgiving and have “completely expanded hearts”, wouldn’t any rational human being respond by putting his best foot forward? Showering Fido with unlimited affection, luxurious pet spas, extravagant gifts, and luscious treats?

Just think – affection, spas, gifts and treats?  Frankly, I'm thinking my own marriage could use a little of that!  I know what you're thinking – so human of me to  begin with expectations and act with selfish motives – At this rate, my efforts will be doomed before I begin.

Oh well.  If not for the saving virtue of Hope, I’d brood on the irony of it all.

For now, I think I’ll go walk my dog.

 

Reading Assignment:

Week 4 – p. 87-112 (Ch. IV – Read to the end of #1: Law and Grace)

Discussion Questions:

1. How can we, as humans, do a better job of living in the present moment?

2. For fun – do you have an inspirational story you'd like to share about your pet and his ability to appreciate the moment at hand, foregoing all past and future considerations?

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

For More Information on the Book Club:  http://spiritualdirection.com/csd-book-club

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the SpiritualDirection.com book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at pelicansbreast.com

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  • judeen

    people put their pets as so important.. they do not know love… and a pet (dogs ) show love.. they have no sin on their souls… they know when we are sick.. or depressed or need help… they see the spiritual side too.. and as for people say they would save their dog.. sure.. they love them and say this.. but when faced with the situation,, it makes it much different… our soul takes over and we make the choice that is right…. no matter how much we hate the neighbor… and love our dog…
    this world is lacking in love , kindness , and caring… when the emptyest and meanest people expereince this and not a fake I care… it touches their hearts.. Ive seen this… too many fear.. the worst.. but the scripture says trust in me… also call the fruit good and it will be good ,, call the fruit bad and so it will be bad… what is in our hearts.. do we seek bad, evil , hopelessness… when our spouce is crabby , do we understand something is wronge and they are out of sorts because of it? or do we judge… do we communicate… I have a crazy dog.. allergice to chicken.. which in everything almost… but the love she has for us is unbeleivable and the change in her over the years is amazing.. for we got her out of the pound.. now everyone wants a dog like her… it was a fight.. the dog trainer never seen such a bad dog… before in all her 35 years of teaching.. love it can do alot.. how do we see others.. do we really care or just judge them/// there is a baby boom where I live.. little kids all over the place… dont trust what the papers tell you… God is with us..

    • LizEst

      judeen–I understand what you are trying to say here. But, there is no indication in Scripture that when you call fruit good it will be good and if you call it bad, it will be bad. What it does say is that “every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:17-18). It’s important to be as precise as possible when we use words that come from Scripture, as I believe you were trying to do here. Often it’s easier to get the Bible out and quote directly from it rather than trust my memory. God certainly blesses your efforts as you strive for the goal that is before us! May He bless you always, judeen.

    • Vicki

      Judeen, Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I agree with you that when push comes to shove, most people would probably not choose to save a dog over a human being – at least I sure hope not!

  • DianeVa

    Living in the present moment…hmmm I have actually made this part of my Lenten journey this year to try and stay focused on one day at a time but with a small glance into the future. I admit I was constantly looking back to my past and also concerned about how my past affects my future. I realized I was not living in Christ! While on earth Jesus Christ was physically living day to day but had eternal life in his heart. I too, if one with him, must be doing the same always. Living moment to moment, or day to day, is JOY and PEACE.

  • Sue

    Hi Vicki,

    I’m new to this website and thought I had commented but it’s not here so will try again. I enjoyed your insights above and wanted to recommend a book to you. It’s called “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein. It’s a wonderful book about a dog and his human family.
    Keep up the good work!
    Sue
    PS If you see another comment from me just delete one of them 🙂

    • Vicki

      Welcome, Sue! Yes, I’ve read “The Art of Racing in the Rain” – in fact, I read it for another book club:). Very sweet book – there are several quotes in there that relate to the things I said above. One in particular – Enzo (the dog), relates to the reader, “I never interrupt, I never deflect the conversation with a comment of my own.” Quite the companion:)! Truth be told, though, I’m not really a dog lover (my kids would testify to that – happy as Moses is, with six kids, I don’t give him much attention) – very thankful for my cat, though (mostly because she’s as low maintenance as she is sweet).

      • Sue

        I’m a cat person as well; my cat is easy to live with and very sociable!

  • Vicki

    I had to share this quote with you guys! I am reading No Greater Love, by Mother Teresa (wish I had read it before my post above). Here is a passage from the book:

    I cannot remember now in what city I was, but I do remember that I did not see any children on the street. I missed the children very badly. While I was walking down the street, suddenly I saw a baby carriage. A young woman was pushing the carriage, and I crossed the street just to see the child. To my terrible surprise, there was no child in the carriage. There was a little dog!

    Wow! That’s all I can say.

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