It’s a very long story, but suffice it to say, my husband and I are planning to bring home a dog at the end of this week.
Many people have expressed interest (to put it nicely) in why we are bringing home a dog when we do not yet have and are not currently expecting children.
Essentially, “why are you replacing a child with a dog?”
They have made it very clear that we are not truly Catholic because we are getting a dog before conceiving our first child.
This sparked some emotional turmoil in me, in part, because both my husband and I both feel called to bring home Tex (pictured right). As I began reflecting on it, I realized a couple of things:
1) We can never escape the fact that we care about what others think, nor should we.
We hear the mantra all the time about not caring what others think. It’s your life, do what you want. Be your own person. Make your own decisions.
We also know the repressing experience of peer pressure. It seems no matter what we do, we cannot escape the fact that we still care what others think.
In general, I actually believe this is a good thing. In the community of believers, we are all, in a sense, our brother’s keeper. We are all meant to help push and pull each other to greater holiness. Fraternal correction is one of the spiritual works of mercy, after all.
The fact that we care what others say to and about us reflects openness in us to receive the fraternal correction we all so desperately need. It is a good thing, and I believe a life lived hardened to others is a life of hardening your heart to the pleas of Christ.
However, just as we should be open to the advice, insight, and critique of others, so too should we develop prudence and recognize that we are all, ultimately, accountable only to our Lord and Savior. Shaking off what others say in a way that points us back to the Lord can be an incredible gift. If others remark on something in a way that allows us deeper insight into why what we are doing is indeed right, then that is an unexpected benefit. Without intending to, our brothers and sisters in Christ can form our souls to see beauty more intensely and strive to follow Christ more intently.
Likewise, those who intend to correct us by changing our decisions may still change us. In all of the comments on our apparent lack of Catholicism, I have learned more about softening my heart than ever before. Not simply to those people making such remarks, but also to the presence of God.
An openness to the beauty of and a love of creation I never thought possible has planted itself in my heart and begun to blossom. I understand more fully how many different ways there are to show Christ’s love, and in that sense, to be ever “more Catholic.”
We are the universal Church. If all of creation can groan under the weight of the fall, then surely all of creation can – in some way – long for resurrection and we can be a part of that resurrection with the rest of creation in sharing our homes with them.
We should celebrate our animals, not cast them off simply because they are not human.
2) Being pro-life means valuing and respecting all life.
I firmly believe in the pro-life side of things. If you’ve even glanced through my other articles or my personal blog, you will see that far and away the majority of my posts concern abortion. However, I also refuse to accept that the only way to be pro-life is to love people.
In fact, I argue that you are not truly pro-life if you flat out, blatantly, across the board dislike animals. I have addressed this idea in previous articles, so to save from being redundant, let’s just say that there is a proven correlation between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans.
This makes sense.
If you cannot respect, value, serve, and love those creatures which are less than you and rely upon you, then you will not be able to respect, value, serve, and love those creatures which are equal to you, but who still rely upon you (the elderly, the unborn, the young, etc.)
In a previous article, I argued that animals help us to see and experience God more fully. Pope Saint John Paul II explores this idea in Theology of the Body, when speaking of Adam naming the animals. It is only in knowing the animals that Adam comes to know himself as different from them and to see his relationship with God and Eve as unique. If that is so, then in some way, animals help make us more human. It is in coming to know God ever better that we grow to be more human.
In this sense, how much more pro-life can you be than to see a life, rejected because it was not perfect, and decide to love and nurture it anyway? Tex is coming to live with us because he is a special needs dog and his previous owner did not, or could not, do the work necessary for Tex to be healthy and successful. Don’t many adoptive parents experience something similar with their children? Children who were rejected because they were, in some way, not perfect either health-wise or timing-wise?
All of this is to say that, since my husband and I are currently not able to have children, but we are in a position to offer an animal a life that he could not otherwise offer himself, we should at least consider it. If God deemed this creature worthwhile to make, then we ought to consider that in serving this animal, we are also serving God. In seeing that “it is good,” we are seeing as God sees. God did not create the animals and say “it is so-so.” Or “it is good, but less good than other stuff I make.”
He created and then said “it is good.”
God does not see anything as useless, but rather as a beautiful addition to the playground that is creation.
So too, we do not see this as a replacement for a child, but as a beautiful addition to the playground of our lives. An addition who will teach us to love more deeply, care more passionately, and truly celebrate every life just as Christ does.