Cats and Dogs

There are, said Robert Benchley, two kinds of people in this world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t.

In addition to that division, there are another two kinds of people in this world: Cat People and Dog People. I stand firmly with the Dog People.

Now some people may say that this makes me a dissenter from the Holy Father. After all, it is a matter of record that Pope Benedict has a (regrettable) soft spot for the feline breed. As a faithful son of the Church, I sh all draw a discreet veil over this unfortunate lapse in taste on the part of the Holy Father, remarking only that on such matters of personal preference and private judgment, we lay faithful are (happily) not bound.

However, in another sense, the Pope is also a Dog Person. Let me explain:

Some years ago, I ran across a cartoon that cracked me up. In the first panel a dog looks up adoringly at the little old lady who is scooping food into his dish.

“She feeds me and cares for my every need!” the dog thinks to himself. “She must be a god!”

In the next panel, a cat coolly ponders the little old lady as she scoops food into his dish.

“She feeds me and cares for my every need!” the cat thinks to himself. “I must be a god!”

Our culture is chockablock with invitations to join the Cat People who say “I must be a god!” I fight that temptation every day. So do you if you are a believing Christian. It’s called original sin and concupiscence and it’s endemic because we are all afflicted with the results of the Fall.

Dog People are those who, like St. Dominic, the original Dog of the Lord, look at God and his gifts and conclude that the divine generosity is an occasion of gratitude for a whole heap of stuff—up to and including the gift of the Trinity Himself—that we are ridiculously, preposterously, hilariously unworthy to receive. A Dog Person doesn’t think that, when it comes to the gift of Holy Church, fidelity (as in “Fido”) is a badge of shame but a mark of honor.

Cat People are those who look around at the giant pile of divine gifts and conclude “I must really rock! After all, this is only what I am entitled to! Indeed, God Himself must envy me!”

In the Catholic community, this tends to get expressed in terms of “ownership” of the Church. “We Are Church” as the saying goes, with the sotto voce suggestion that They (here meaning “People who don’t dissent from the Magisterium”) Don’t Own the Church, We the People do. Indeed, in some of its more extreme forms what goes with it is the notion that all that stuff about crucifixion, suffering and sin is some sort of dark medievalism imposed by life-hating clerics. According to this way of thinking, the real reason for the Incarnation was that God just wanted to become human in order to experience all of our wonderfulness.

Here’s the thing, we don’t own the Church. No mortal does. It belongs to Christ, who gave it to us because we are creatures so desperately depraved that we would nail him to a cross just for fun and then stand around laughing at him as he died. He was drawn here, not by our wonderfulness, but because he is Love—even (and especially) for creatures as pitiable as we.

Of course, in this world, the miraculous thing is that some Cat People are slowly turning into Dog People via a process called “repentance”. Likewise, some Dog People are slowly turning into Cat People under the influence of our “You deserve to have it all and nobody has a claim on your life” consumer culture. This is one of the reasons we are commanded by our Lord not to judge. Some of our doggiest-looking people—indeed, even that person in the mirror—may, at this very moment, be in the process of slowly closing their hearts off to God. Meanwhile, that Cat Person spouting the prideful blather about NewChurch may, at this very moment, be realizing his need for the Lord Jesus and the hollowness of his New Age twaddle. How it will all be sorted out in the grand shuffle of history only God knows. But in the end, as C.S. Lewis observes, there will be only those who say to God “Thy will be done” or those to whom God says “Thy will be done.”

Pope Benedict is, in that sense, a thorough-going Dog Person and a fine pastor of the flock. No wonder they call him the German Shepherd.

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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

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