Grieving the Loss of a Pet by Bro Duncan PBGV

Bro Duncan PBGV in Desert-Father Mode
Bro Duncan PBGV in Desert-Father Mode

From up here in Beyond we see a lot of sadness down below. Human Beans just don’t seem to be able to get along together for very long. I think that is why God allows us dogs to be your companions. We are not with you for very long, but during the time we are, we make you feel very special. You are everything in the world to us and we like to show it with our waggly tails and little barks. We don’t mind if you are a bit thick, or smelly, or have horrible taste. We just like to be with you, in the same way that God does, because we love you. And, of course, we PBGVs have a huge advantage when it comes to being loved back: we are all floppy ears and whiskers and big black noses which make you smile, even when you don’t feel very smiley on the insides. (Don’t let God know: he doesn’t seem to understand that being pictured with a big white beard on a golden throne isn’t ideal PR). Anyway, Human Beans seem to like the way we are always up to mischief, and even those dogs who are not PBGVs — like that young sprog Bro Dyfrig BFdeB — usually become the besties of those they live with. That is why we leave such a horrible gap when we go.

We bound off into Beyond (no Purgatory for us!) and wait for you to join us. Meanwhile, you are sobbing your hearts out and trying to keep a stiff upper lip and saying things like, ‘He was such a beggar for cheese,’ or, ‘Remember that time he ran off and didn’t come back for five hours?’ and hoping everyone will think you’ve got hay fever or something. Then you torment yourselves thinking that perhaps you didn’t do everything you should for us and forgetting that we have one very special God-like quality: we forgive utterly. Yes, there may have been times when you did not understand that we NEEDED to investigate that pile of horse poo or go after that rabbit, but we forgave you. Or the times when you left us alone. You said it was for five minutes max but we know it was hours and hours and hours, but still, we forgave you. Then, when we got a bit creaky in the joints and the vets’ bills began to mount up, we wanted to say sorry to YOU for all the trouble and expense, but all you could see was the old boy failing a bit and we loved you all the more for not minding that we were now the smelly ones. When, finally, you let us go, we wanted to tell you how much you meant to us and that we’d be waiting by the pearly gates for you, but you had to do your bit and make sure you got there by living a Good Life and maybe a successor dog was what you needed to keep you on the Right Path and not to worry about us, because everything for us is perfect — except that we have to wait for you.

Sometimes I look down from Beyond at BigSis and LittleSis and think what a good job I did in making Them realise the importance of dogs to Human Beans. It’s all right to be tearful and miss us, but we won’t be parted for very long. If you are good, we’ll be together for all eternity. My friend St Dominic (Domini canis . . . hound of the Lord, how cool is that?) says that may not be quite theological but everyone will understand. I like St Dominic. He’s not at all fierce when you get to know him, and we’re having a brilliant party for his feast-day today. I just wish They were here, too.

Love and licks,

Dunc xx


St Dominic and Changing the Church

The engraving by Eric Gill of the hound of St Dominic conveys so much about St Dominic and his sons and daughters! The device itself is the badge or mark of the Order and refers back to the legend that, before he was born, Dominic’s mother dreamed she gave birth to a dog carrying a flaming torch in its mouth. The engraving is beautiful, with the beauty of utter simplicity and economy of line, as St Dominic himself was beautiful with asceticism and love of God. He is said to have been a slim man, with a handsome face, and when he died at the age of fifty-one, his tonsure was only just speckled with grey. There is tremendous  energy in the engraving, too, like the energy displayed by St Dominic in his zeal for truth and Catholic unity when he went to preach to the Cathars and later, when he established his Order. His friars were to be men of holiness and learning who would preach powerfully because they lived what they preached, and he was first among them. Finally, there is that flaming torch, red as blood, trailing its tail like a comet— a wonderful evocation of the way in which the Dominicans would spread over the world, kindling love of truth and learning wherever they went.

St Dominic changed the Church, but I don’t think he set out to do so. He was enthralled by orthodoxy and wanted to share his love of truth with others, but he was a humble man, who knew his limitations, and never once, as far as I can see, opposed the papal Magisterium or the authority of his local bishop. True, he ended up creating a new Order with a fresh emphasis on the importance of preaching and teaching, but he never gives the impression that he found the Church wanting, only some of her members. Quite often today one hears people talking about how the Church must change. Very often, when one digs deeper, there is a private agenda at work. We would feel more comfortable in a Church which did x or didn’t do y, so we make a cause of it. To see ourselves as prophets, champions of this or that may, ultimately, prove sheer vanity, nothingness; but it is hard to convince anyone of that when the fervour of a new enthusiasm is upon them. We can only acknowledge how easy it is to make a rumpus, not so easy to work quietly and perseveringly, ready to give up one’s own ideas because one desires only what is according to the mind of God.

St Dominic’s obedience must have cost him dearly at times, as all obedience does, but there is something in it we might usefully ponder. Mindless obedience is mere servitude, unworthy of a Christian; but it is safe. Intelligent obedience, by contrast, makes huge demands on the individual and, indeed, the Church as a whole; but it is prepared to venture anything for the love of God. That is the kind of obedience St Dominic practised and to which we ourselves are called. It presupposes prayer, reflection and humility. I have a hunch that St Dominic’s early years spent living according to the Rule of St Benedict among the monks at Silos and the canons of Osma had more than a passing influence on him. From them he would have learned that the Christian life must be spent listening for the word of God, then proclaiming it truthfully and fearlessly. The important thing was to listen first, lest our own noise get in the way.

May God bless all our Dominican friends and grant them a happy feastday.

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Simple Goodness

In previous years I have written about St Dominic in terms of truth and beauty, but this morning, with Iraqi Christians and Yazidis fleeing before their persecutors and the situation of Christians in Syria and other parts of the Near and Middle East scarcely better, I am attracted to that third part of the Platonic trinity: goodness.

Goodness doesn’t get very much attention these days, probably because we have become lazy in our thinking. We tend to see goodness as something other than virtue, i.e. not a moral quality as such but something innate over which we have little control. We are ‘good’ in the same way that we are blue-eyed or brown-haired. It may not be in our genes, but it is somehow part of us. I’m not quite convinced of that.

God is the supreme good, and I trust St Dominic might forgive this non-Dominican for thinking that the love of truth he inculcated in his sons and daughters was part of the quest for this supreme good. But how is goodness linked to this supreme good, God? In the Germanic languages the connection with God is fairly obvious; so can we say that goodness is a reflection of God, a God-given quality, in fact? If so, it is something we are free either to accept or reject, and so far is it from being innate, we must work at it as we must work at other qualities.

I think part of the solution to the problem I have posed myself can be found in the title of this blog post. I spoke of ‘simple goodness’. The Prologue to the Rule of St Benedict is largely about purity of heart — the simplification of being that results in closeness to God. To be close to God is to be like him — to be good, as he is good. St Dominic wanted everyone to be close to God and as like him as possible. It is a challenge we must take up in our own lives.

I am not sure how that can help our Iraqi brothers and sisters, but I am certain that it can.


The Beauty of Truth

St Dominic’s love of truth was ultimately love of a Person, Jesus Christ our Lord. That is the sticking point for many who would otherwise be quite happy to talk about the importance of the good, the true and the beautiful in their lives. (As an aside, when I was doing intellectual history under Christopher Morris, one of his frequent moans was that people plucked ideas from Plato without actually reading him. Not guilty, m’ Lud.) It is also a sticking point for those more Aristotelian types who are interested in virtue ethics. How can something as abstract as truth be personal? How can it be loved?

My own answer would run along the lines of saying that ultimate reality is to be found outside the universe rather than within its structure and function. Since that is not accessible to reason by and of itself, we must allow for the transcendent. However, in the person of Jesus that which is transcendent has become accessible to us as revelation. In him we see and hear and touch ‘the love that moves the sun and lesser stars’. For God is love. The question then is not so much whether Truth is a Person, but whether Truth is lovable as we understand loving. (I have compressed the argument of what would be a long book into a short paragraph, so do not be surprised at the leaps I take.)

How can we love Truth? St Thomas Aquinas has some fine things to say on this subject, but I think we can put things very simply by acknowledging that Christ is so vast, measureless in fact, that we can experience but never explain him. We can know his love without being able to explain it. The image of God is stamped on all creation. There is a truth in all things if we are ready to seek it, and it is infinitely lovable.

On this feast of St Dominic, when we pray for Dominicans the world over, I think we can make our own a sentence of St Thomas which expresses the hope of every Christian scholar: ‘Lord, in my zeal for the love of truth, let me not forget the truth about love.’ There is mystery in those words, and deep humility, as there is in all love.


Love of Truth

The Dominican motto, ‘Veritas’, has always attracted me. If I weren’t a Benedictine, I would want to be a Dominican and I suspect many others would, too. St Dominic, whose feast we keep today, was influenced by the Benedictines, and I think the whole Church has been influenced by St Dominic and his sons and daughters. With the benefit of hindsight, we may not always agree with the way in which truth was sought or what was done to preserve its conclusions, but with the ideal itself we cannot quibble. Truth matters.

Love of truth in all its forms must surely lead to love of Truth himself. That is why there is no human endeavour that is not capable of leading us to God. It is also why integrity matters so much. We cannot be truthful in speech and untruthful in deed. Careless or substandard work is as much a distortion of truth as telling a lie.

Sometimes we become downcast when we realise that we can do very little for God or other people. Love can seem a bit of an abstraction, particularly if we are confined to the circle of self because of age, poverty or serious illness. But whatever our circumstances, we can live truthfully. We can reflect the truth and beauty of God just by being. That is not little. That is true greatness.