Free-lancing: Angels in Disguise
I have long been intrigued by dogs and their amazing ability to alter our perspectives on life. Some years ago I came to the conclusion that dogs might be angels in disguise, sent down from heaven to build our self-esteem, remind us that someone loves us and teach us about the meaning of unconditional love.
I came by these ideas gradually, over a number of years, and then wrote about them briefly in a book I authored and published in 2005 titled Grand Coteau: The Holy Land of South Louisiana. The short passage in the book was triggered by a visit from a shaggy dog who wandered into the courtyard of Our Lady of the Oaks Retreat House in Grand Coteau while I was on retreat there in the autumn of 2002. I was sitting in the sun on a bench that faces a fountain, watching the carefree birds pecking about in the oaks, when the dog walked up and just sort of stared at me. He was a gentle little guy who just wanted to see what was going on and who was lounging in the courtyard. After our brief encounter, I went back to my room and scribbled some notes, which I later used in writing the following:
Like birds, dogs have something to teach us. Could it be that they’re little angels, sent by God to serve as living examples of unconditional love? Once a dog starts to love and depend on you, he’ll be faithful till the end. When you come home from work or school, his heart seems to leap for joy the moment he sees you. He barks, spins, twirls and tries to jump in your arms. Even if you’re tired or in a bad mood or disinterested, he’s still glad to see you. If you are not bearing gifts or treats, it doesn’t matter, he’s still wagging his tail. His enthusiasm over seeing you again is boundless; his love, unconditional.
In addition to what a dog can do for a person’s sense of self-worth, having a dog and spending time with it can make us into better human beings. A person who learns to be kind to animals is less likely to be unkind to his fellow human beings. Patterns of kindness, compassion and patience that we acquire through our dealings with our pets can be extended to our dealings with other people.
Being an animal-lover and having a special interest in dogs, I was naturally drawn to two new books about dogs and the afterlife, published in 2009 and 2010, and written by a Franciscan priest, Friar Jack Wintz. First, I spotted Will I See My Dog in Heaven? and then I Will See You in Heaven. (Copies of the book can be obtained through www.paracletepress.com.)
Although the churches have traditionally taught that only human beings have spirits that live on after death, these two books provide a solid case for another reality.
Wintz acknowledges that although no one here on earth really knows what heaven is like, he believes heaven will be filled not only with the souls of people but also with the spirits of animals of every sort – as it was in the beginning, when God created the world as we know it. And Wintz doesn’t just pull this idea out of thin air but lays out a solid, hard-to-dispute theological case for it. He cites numerous passages from the Old Testament; evidence from Christian tradition and modern church liturgy; and the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.
“All of these sources strongly suggest that other creatures besides humans are included in God’s plan of salvation,” Wintz writes. “In this book you will find much evidence and many hints that God desires the whole family of creation, both humans and animals, to be redeemed and saved.
“It makes sense to me that the same loving Creator who arranged for these animals … to enjoy happiness in the original Garden [of Eden] would not want to exclude them from the final paradise.”
What Wintz is saying doesn’t seem so far-fetched to me; his ideas appear to be prophetic, enlightened. Indeed, the scriptures not only hint at this possibility; they all but tell us that the next life will include all of God’s creation. (Isn’t it interesting how we can sometimes fail to see what’s right there in front of us?)
I, for one, can easily imagine, after my own mortal life has ended, peering through the Pearly Gates and seeing not only the Supreme Being, plus countless generations of my relatives, but also a multitude of the beautiful little spirits of the animals that have inhabited the earth. And, dashing out ahead of this multitude, a handful of dogs who were my companions, barking, spinning and twirling and wagging their tails as I approach the gates.
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