Kalayaan, Laguna / Boljoon, Cebu / Dauis, Bohol / Magdalena, Laguna, the Philippines
June 2010, March 2011, April 2011, and November 2011
All Dogs Go to Heaven, so goes a movie title. I think there might be a grain of truth in it after seeing some canine parishioners in various churches I have visited. They gave the phrase “faithful as a dog” a literal spin.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
A grey mutt’s backside greeted me as I stepped into the rectory of St. Mary Magdalena Parish Church in Magdalena, Laguna. The dog was standing by the door above a flight of stairs. I expected it to turn back and bark at us, or at least acknowledge the presence of strangers with a sniff. But it remained motionless, looking up at a painting hanging on the wall, and held that position long enough for me to go up a few steps, set my camera, and snap a photo. Still, the dog was oblivious to this intruder, its eyes seemingly fixed at the painting of Jesus, with a divine spotlight forming a halo around his face, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The scene was evocative of a verse from one of my favorite hymns:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
It was almost 5:30PM. The vesper mass at the Church of Patrocinio de Maria in the town of Boljoon in Cebu Island was about to begin. The communion vessels had already been set on the center table. Parishioners were trickling in as the church bell pealed. Along with the human faithful, a pair of dogs was walking along the church aisle. As people settled on their pews, the dogs took their posts at the side of the nave.
1 Corinthians 16:13
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.
Stretched out on the pavement in front of the rectory of the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Dauis on Panglao Island, Bohol, a small dog was on guard. It held its head up, with ears erect, scanning the church grounds and observing the comings and goings of visitors. Later, it quietly escorted my group at a cafe behind the rectory.
Psalm 62: 1-2
My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
Sleeping in church may sometimes prove to be irresistible, but no one does it as shamelessly as the resident dog of San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist) Church in Kalayaan, Laguna. Curled up in an almost fetal position by the main portal, Golem was the picture of security, contentment, and comfort, with nary a care in the world. The alpha dog could not be disturbed from his alpha sleep. The church was its refuge. A year later, I visited the church again and, as usual, I found this canine sleepyhead napping at the parish priest’s feet during lunch. Neither food nor noise roused him from sweet slumber.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
The ancient ancestors of these dogs had not always been domesticated. They were wolves; they roamed and hunted, wild and free. But a change of heart had occurred somewhere down their blood line. The fierce nature of these erstwhile pack hunters seems far-fetched now.
These church dogs provided an allegorical display of various virtues of the Christian faith: Eyes fixed solely on Jesus, a desire to seek God’s presence, vigilance in the face of worldly distractions, and finding refuge in God. Dogs know their master and are completely devoted regardless of the circumstances. Man could learn such dogged devotion, but it should be directed to God, not to dogma. More than the church buildings I have visited and the organized religion they represented, man’s best friend pointed the way back to faith. The word dog, after all, is God spelled backwards.
In memory of Sam, Phantom, and all the dogs I’ve loved before.