Thursday, August 30, 2007
St. Rock and His Dog
Readers have pointed out to me that I mention St. Rock and his dog all the time. To be honest that's because the story of St. Rock and his dog is the perfect metaphor for the oft asked question: Does Lassie get to go to heaven?
Now before I give you that answer, which is a flat out, "NO," I feel compelled to mention that some very great thinkers disagree with me. I know this because I often hang around at the Catholic Online Forums, in particularly one called "The Lion's Den." This is a place where some very brilliant but somewhat humorless people debate questions of political, social and theological importance in great depth. They are highly intelligent smarty pantses all. To my great surprise, there was a big argument going on there one day about animals in heaven and there were actually some people arguing that, since to them it wouldn't BE heaven without animals in it, animals must be there. They posited this theory without a shred of irony.
The premise was that since God can do whatever He likes with heaven, he could fill it with animals of all kinds, including your childhood companion, now unmashed from his foray across the highway. These people could not be swayed.
In the interest of full disclosure, nowhere in the Catechism of the Catholic Church does it state that "animals do not go to heaven".
Also in the interest of full disclosure, I was taught by every nun and priest I ever had as a teacher that animals do NOT go to heaven. At age seven, I thought that was very sad. But even at age seven I accepted the news because I was a tough bird even as a child and because I understood the difference between people and animals.
People have immortal souls. Animals do not. Hence there is no soul to go to heaven. Need further proof? We don't baptize the rottweiler "just in case."
The argument back in the ironically named "Lions' Den" was that God would put animals in heaven to make nature lovers happy, since heaven is a happy place. Clearly, God likes animals. He sure made a lot of them. My rejoinder is that, without an immortal soul, the animals in heaven would have to be some sort of virtual animals, not animals who had lived on earth. God could do that without a laser machine to generate holograms, the people who work at Pixar, or even Photoshop. Or, I guess He could just make some new animals to make a mess in heaven and chew on things. If they were just a bunch of animal copies, which they'd have to be, they'd be sort of depressing, don't you think? So animals wouldn't go to heaven, but there would be animals in heaven, which defeats the whole purpose, I think, of hoping that animals go to heaven.
Which brings me to the story of St. Rock (aka Roch, Rocko, Roche), that patron saint of dogs and dog lovers. Anyone could have guessed that Rock would end up a saint because he was born with a cross-shaped birthmark on his chest. Rock was a nobleman, born to a wealthy family, but he went off to work helping plague victims. He managed to do that for a long time until he finally became ill himself. Being saintly and not wanting to trouble anyone, Rock crawled off to a cave to die.
But every day a dog showed up with food for St. Rock and licked his plague sores. That's always pictured right on his holy card. (A dog's tongue is hundreds of times more germ free than that of a human, which is why your dog, Rollo, can eat garbage with a relaxed smile.) St. Rock survived.
St. Rock was eventually thrown into prison. He could have gotten out of prison, because he could easily have proved he was a nobleman, what with his famous birthmark and all (they didn't have fingerprints and DNA and the like back then). But, of course, being a saint and possessing heroic virtue, he stayed and helped the other prisoners. St. Rock died in prison.
So, St. Rock arrived in heaven, looked around and said, "Where's my dog?"
God said, "There are no dogs in heaven."
And St. Rock said, "Then I'm not going."
So God said, "Oh, alright, you can have your dog."
And that's how St. Rock's dog got to heaven.
This was my very favorite saint story when I was a little girl.
Clearly, this story is made up. Not the first part about St. Rock's heroic virtue. But obviously someone made up the dog in heaven part for people who just can't let go of the idea that, in heaven, you won't need a dog to lower your blood pressure or keep you company or make sure you're walking enough. You'll be one with God in ecstasy and adoration, not knitting fancy socks while the cat bats at the yarn.
The story is a perfect metaphor, the truth about a saint, a ray of hope for the innocent and simple minded. Recalling the story is the perfect answer to, "Does Lassie get to go to heaven?"
The answer, "You can pretend she does and we don't really mind, you poor thing."
God won't be mad if you go to your grave hoping to see Fluffy sitting on God's lap covering God in cat hair. He understands that once you're with Him you'll be glad not to clean the cat box.