Simple Goodness by Bro Duncan PBGV

From my vantage point in Beyond, I often wonder why Human Beans just don’t get it. They rush around trying to fix what can’t be fixed and become very complicated about things that are really very simple. Take goodness, for example. Dogs understand goodness perfectly. Everyone is our very best friend and to be treated as such. True, we may have a special soft spot for the most hopeless among them, the ones who are always getting things wrong, but we are very delicate in the way we express it. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sat beside BigSis and gazed at her with my big brown eyes to show sympathy and understanding or trotted along in front of LittleSis, my tail gently waving to reassure her that everything was going to be all right! Even the Ginger Fiend is learning that life isn’t all treats and tummy rubs. We have to be there for Them. Which brings me to my point.

I was asking St Aelred the other day whether there wasn’t a problem with Human Beans misunderstanding his teaching on friendship and stuff. He looked at me very shrewdly and, being a good teacher, asked me what I thought. Well, simples! Human Beans do get him wrong very often. Probably it takes a dog to get to the heart of the matter. Love of others should lead to love of God or it is not real love. My dearest wish is for everyone I knew and loved on earth to be with me in Beyond where we can rejoice with God for ever and ever. That is real love, I have no doubt; and it is very patient, humble and persevering. I know I have a big task ahead of me, but I put my paws together regularly and never lose hope.

Very few now remember much about St Aelred except his love of God and his love of his brethren, and that’s as it should be. Human Beans can learn from that sort of forgetting. It doesn’t matter how handsome or successful we are, how learned or ‘inspiring’, simple goodness — loving others — is what counts. But it must be genuine love of others, not covert manipulation or self-seeking (a bit like some of the Young Sprog’s earlier attempts to win a supernumerary Dentastix. ‘Nuff sed.). I think that’s why we dogs don’t have very long lives by human standards. We learn very quickly to love deeply, constantly and forgivingly. We’re good at simple goodness — thank goodness!

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The Importance of Almsgiving

At the risk of repeating myself, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of almsgiving in our Lenten discipline. On Ash Wednesday our focus tends to be on prayer and fasting, which is as it should be. Our awareness of personal sin and the need of individual conversion is uppermost. We mark the beginning of the penitential season with a rigorous fast and an exterior sign of our inner resolve. Today, however, the ashes are washed from our heads and we turn a beaming face to the world (‘let no one know you are fasting . . .’). What should be the one thing everyone notices? Not our small acts of self-denial or the extra time spent in prayer, surely? No, our compassion, our almsgiving, should be what everyone notices about the Christian practice of Lent.

It has been well said that if you want to know God, show love to your neighbour. When I was a young nun I thought the way to know God was to pray ardently and read deeply, but living in community showed me that, important though those are, the only way to know love fully is to show love oneself. The example of the old nuns taught me what my theology text books did not and could not. The small sacrifices we make during Lent only have meaning if they increase love. So, if you are giving up chocolate or wine as a small gesture of love for the Lord, don’t forget to give the money you save to those who cannot afford either. You will be repaid a hundredfold. Don’t forget the most precious gift you can give is your time. So, over and above any material gift, give your time to those who need it. That visit to someone you have been putting off, that letter you have been meaning to write, even the smile with which you greet the office bore, they are all forms of almsgiving which will enrich your life as well as that of others. They will allow God a way in.

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