The Mystery of Beyond


he Young Duncan: Ch. Soletrader Dunc 'N Disorderly: Photo © Gavin Robertson, used by permission
The Young Duncan: Ch. Soletrader Dunc ‘N Disorderly: Photo © Gavin Robertson, used by permission

Even the most casual reader of this blog will have gathered that I am a bit soppy about dogs, one in particular. Today is the first anniversary of Bro Duncan PBGV’s entry into Beyond. We got on very well, he and I, but this post is not going to be a sentimental trip down memory lane. He was too dignified a dog for that — even though he was a PBGV. No, this is about the mystery of Beyond, from where he confidently continues to blog and tweet, although he sensibly says very little about his present mode of existence.

Dog owners (and for all I know, cat and guinea pig owners) tend to get a little teary when it comes to the death of their old companions. There is much talk of crossing rainbow bridges and running free. I understand that perfectly. We do not want death to be the end. We may have no belief in an afterlife for ourselves, but for our pets, who have given us so much joy in their short lives, there must be something more.

I know the Thomists will disagree and assert that animals do not have souls and therefore their brief existence on earth is all there is, but I prefer to think of the immensity of God and his care for even the smallest of sparrows. Could such a God snuff out for ever and ever the life of a creature who had given and received such love and affection? I rather doubt it. In fact, although I can’t conceive of Beyond in material terms, I have a little private heresy according to which nothing is ever lost or destroyed, although it is necessarily changed. I would like Bro Duncan PBGV to be part of that changed existence, just as I would like the dinosaurs to be. (Imagine! Seeing a live dinosaur for the first time! But I digress.)

Today there are thousands of people in Britain grieving the loss of someone dear to them. Many cannot express their sense of loss save in extravagant gestures and the conventional phrases that reveal their inadequacy as soon as they are uttered. We cannot really mourn, cannot really allow our grief or sadness to be healed, as long as we do not let the mystery of Beyond touch and transform our lives. For me, as a Catholic, there is the pleasant prospect of purgatory and a final purification. I do not have to worry about the immediate prospect of heaven or hell for those I love; and I have the beautiful and meaningful rituals of the Church and of the monastic order to surround the harsh reality of death. They are a huge comfort because they help to make sense of what might otherwise seem to be sheer negativity. They point to what is not yet by proclaiming the value of what is and what has been with an honesty and lack of sentimentality I find refreshing.

For our pets there are no rituals, no solemn ways of acknowledging their going from us, so we make little jokes and cry our hearts out among the tomato plants or try to be ‘frightfully British’ about it all. I like to think that that is part of their gift to us. They make us realise the supreme dignity of being created human, the extraordinary graces bestowed on us by a loving God who has seen in us the lineaments of his Son, Jesus Christ. What I call the mystery of Beyond is something that surrounds us from our first moments of conception. It is our natural environment, so to say. We pass from one degree of glory to another, and although death is painful, it is the gateway to a fuller life and a happiness that has no end. Where Bro Duncan PBGV fits into this, I do not really know, but I am as sure that he is part of it as I am sure that the grass is green beneath my feet and the brilliant blue skies of Herefordshire are over my head.


27 thoughts on “The Mystery of Beyond”

  1. I have to confess that ,when my horse Kinsale, my two burmese cats and a yorkshire terrier were each cremated., I took their caskets into the Chapel and prayed over them and gave thanks for their lives. Each is buried with a small tombstone outside the Chapel at the Menagerie.

  2. A timely post. We have lost four of much loved cats in the last year. In fact, I am siting looking at three cases containing the ashes of 3 of them, while the fourth is interred in the garden under a marker stone.

    I wrote about grieving for a pet on i-church recently and received a lot of comfort from those there, who think that while we cannot be certain about the after life for ourselves, or our pets, we can at least live in the hope of the promise of Jesus’ promise to us of joining him in the renewed heaven and earth, and I can not see that promise not extending to our loved ones, including our pets.

    I like to see the posts from beyond from Bro Duncan, as somehow his wisdom and companionship with you and Quiet Nun makes us reconsider our attitude to each other and of course, towards our beloved Pets. And perhaps you will have noted the response on twitter of SootyCat RIP to
    your newest canine Oblate.

  3. Dear Dame Catherine I’m sure that you’ve got it right. As a former dog owner, although Kaff was really my sister’s dog, and proud provider to Mitzi and her four much loved feline predecessors. I have remembered them all on their birthdays, the anniversary of each of them joining our family, and the day and time that they left us. I don’t remember our family’s canarys so well as I didn’t really have a relationship with them other than feeding them and cleaning out their cages, but I’m equally sure that other bird owners would disagree. Where I am not sure that I agree with you is the fear I have of coming face to face with a dinasaur, but I digress.

    I feel very sorry for people who have no faith in eternity and not ever meeting again those we have loved. I’m looking forward to meeting for the first time ancestors whose stories I have researched and will then be able to learn more about them in person.

    In the meantime I will be thinking and praying for you, Sister Lucy and Bro Duncan and all the dogs we have known, loved and fondly remember.

  4. Amen. A short anecdote. Following my late son’s sudden death his ‘special companion’, his devoted dog, Copper, was devastated and eventually had to be ‘put down’. Copper was accustomed to his master not being there for much of the time, but he must have known that this time his master had gone somewhere and was not coming back…. Please pray for them … and for me… and for all my extended family… that we shall all meet again in that heavenly place .. somewhere beyond the rainbow.Thank you.

  5. What a lovely post. You describe so well my own feelings and hopes for my own beloved dogs (one of whom passed away a few months before Bro Duncan last year). It was a warm hug of a post. Many thanks.

  6. Prof. Paul Griffiths of Duke Univ. gave the 2013 Aquinas Lecture, Blackfriars (Cambridge, UK): “What Remains in the Resurrection? A Broadly Thomist Argument for the Presence of Non-human Animals in Heaven.”

    I wish I could remember it all but IIRC, his case was that since all that is good in Creation will be redeemed we can certainly hope that our animals will somehow share that eternal redemption and anyway that we cannot be sure that they will not. (Even St Thomas occasionally leaves room for a little doubt.) Someone from the floor added a memory of Dorothy Sayers saying that she fully expected to meet her dogs in Beyond, not necessarily because *they* were good but because they made *her* be good. I rather like that. My two cats most certainly restrain my horrible selfishness.

    That 2013 evening’s proceedings concluded most fittingly when the priory cat, Leo the Great, slowly processed from the back of the chapel to the front, ascended the altar steps and turned and sat down looking at the audience, beside Prof Griffiths. This was undoubtedly an official feline imprimatur for the professor’s thesis for which Leo got his own round of applause.

  7. I’m shedding a tear as I read this! I don’t know why because I agree with everything you write! But it is quite trying believing but waiting to meet all our loved ones: some we have met, others we haven’t. What a party it will be.
    Thank you, dear Dame Catherine!

  8. I am with the dying every week, sometimes every day. I step into painful places carefully, and for a short time share them. By the grace of God, I am emotionally robust, I have to be. A year ago my colleague came back to the office and found me crying. He’d never seen me cry before, so, in alarm, he asked what was wrong. “Brother D-Duncan has died” I wailed… he looked at me and said ‘you’re crying over a DOG?’ (You can tell he’s never owned one!).
    It is amazing though, how attached one can become to a canine one’s never even met. I’m very, very pleased Beyond has Duncan and his friends…..
    Thank you Duncan and Dyfrig for all you share with us..and thank you to your human helpers too…

      • Thank you. He is brighter today. The pain killers seem to be helping and the vet is pleased. Too many balls chased along the beach for an “older dog” (he didn’t like that bit!)

  9. I still mourn the loss of pets. As for your private heresy, I will say that I think it is a law of physics that we can not create or destroy energy, only change its form. This would seem to fit nicely with your thought.

  10. If heaven is perfect happiness and joy with God our pets must be there too as we couldn’t be happy if they weren’t .It just wouldn’t work.

    • You are perhaps forgetting that heaven is not just a continuation of this life but something entirely new; so we cannot judge it by the standards of this. That is why I wrote of my ‘private little heresy’ — things may not turn out as I, at this point, would wish them to be; but I am quite sure that, whatever happens, heaven will be perfect happiness.

    • I have heard that law of physics too. So true. My pets have passed on but I still light a candle for them on their birthdays.

  11. Bravo, Sister Catherine. Well written. Thank you for reminding us of Duncan and his wonderful spirit as well as your thoughts about the Beyond.

  12. I am quite sure that God is pleased with prayers and thanksgiving for pets. I am quite sure that God is present when in mourning for pets. As you said, (and in the words of an old hymn) “His eye is on the sparrow…”. And yes, all shall be transformed after our life on earth. This is most certainly true!

  13. I was greatly comforted when I lost my dog Misty by my (Anglican) priest who said ‘ all shall be gathered up in Christ’ something I look forward to! She was cremated but I shall be buried so her ashes sit in the kitchen dresser draw and will be put in my coffin when the time comes. She never minded where she was as long as she was with me and so she will be for eternity! We shall be united with all whom we love in Christ our Saviour.

  14. This is a wonderful post.I have had poodle type dogs for over 50 years, when they die it really upsets me and the loneliness takes over. I went 11 months dogless as I could not bear to loose another one.After 11 months I started looking on the rescue sites and I have been the proud human of Sydney Dooner McPoodle, a rescue from Dallas TX.She is a multipoo, Maltese and poodle.This is the first girl dog I have ever had.
    She is very gentle and loves me.I thank God every day that I was not only chosen to be her human, but that I had the courage to take the chance of out living her.I got very sick in April.The closest to death I have ever been.She really saved me, I live alone and was rolled in a ball for 8 days with fever.I HAD to get up and feed her, otherwise I think I would have died of dehydration and organ failure.What I had was Typhas.I doubt you have it in England.It is from the bite of a flea that is from urban rats.There is a strip mall behind my house and it attracts rats.I later learned it is fatal in 17% of the elderly, I am 75, but active, I run a successful string instrument business.Sydney D stayed right by me the whole month I was down.I also had allot of time for reflection when I was not running a high fever.I have no doubt that we will see our fur babies in the next life.

  15. I’ve always made a ritual farewell to my beloved animals and found Andrew Linzey’s book, Animal Rites: Liturgies of animal care, very helpful for prayers and thoughts. It covers all creation, not just companion animals, so can be challenging if you don’t want to think or pray about how humans treat other species but it is deeply grounded in Christian love for our world.

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