Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I think this is too long for a post, but too many people have been pestering me for it, so here goes... Last Sunday's homily at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton parish. It's also on the parish website at

“Wag Your Tail, the Master is Coming”

Many a dog waits for its master; some with patience and some with mischief. It was not lost on the earliest Catholics that we do the same.

On many of the graves in Roman catacombs is an unmistakable paw print. On the concrete that seals tight the graves, there are words and symbols. One of the most common is a paw print. The message was about the deceased Believer: as a dog is loyal to its master and dependent for every good thing, so this servant of God was loyal, depending on God and waiting for his or her Heavenly Master’s return.

Some wait with patience, some with mischief.

• There’s the dog who has such separation anxiety that it flies into a panic and seeming rampage, running here and everywhere , chewing and destroying, until the master returns. I’m reminded of some preachers who suffer such separation anxiety as we await our Lord’s return that their preaching turns into a frenzy of apocalyptic rampage and End Times panic, designed to incite both frenzy and terror in themselves and others. We listen and hear their preaching and just imagine them tearing the stuffing out of one pillow after another.

• There’s the dog who barks at everything all day long. Ask the dog why. It can’t explain. It’s just apprehensive, anxious, wary. Its only reaction is to bark at anything that makes a noise or that moves. Some people go through life this way: nervous, anxious, uncertain, unsettled. They may claim to believe in a master, a Messiah, a Lord, but their lives give no evidence of that fact. They move from one value to another, from one decision to the next, barking at everything that makes noise in life, but uncertain as to a real direction or purpose.

• There’s the dog who eats all the food and drinks all the water, and who as a result leaves “gifts” (dog owners know what I mean) around the house. Seeing only what is in front of them at the moment, the poor doggie can’t imagine that there will be a time when the master will provide more. They can think or imagine no more than to “snarf down” everything in front of them. Their world view is small, and they certainly can’t imagine a larger world, greater plenty, a moment past the present, a life different than now. There are persons whose world view is so small that to “seize the day” and “live for the moment” is all that matters, and others – usually those who love them – are left to clean up the messes they create. These are the persons who have a short world view, and no conception of an eternity that awaits us beyond the horizon of this existence.

• There’s the dog who whines and cries and howls every moment the master is away. No sooner is the master out the door than the poor beast’s grief becomes inconsolable, for surely no living thing has ever suffered as much as this poor doggie that is left alone. The master can have no peace if he has but left the room for a moment. There are persons too who cannot move beyond a certain hurt or disappointment in life, who wallow and whine, who demand the constant attention and emotion of God and others, certain that no one has ever suffered as greatly. This demand for attention denies the Providence and protection of a loving God, and gives no heed to the embrace of an ever-present master, no evidence of hope-filled anticipation of the Master’s return.

• There’s the dog who waits for its master, but as soon as the master opens the door the dog runs outside and right past the master with barely a wag of its tail. Stand by the doors of the church during Holy Communion and watch the people who run out of Mass – you’ll see the same thing. Many are those who run from one thing to the next in life, whose lives are so filled with activities which, in the larger view of life, matter little and have no meaning. When the Lord returns, we can wonder if they will notice at all. After all , they've paid no real attention to Him in life. They may run right past Him with nary a wag of the tail... which of course gives us pause to wonder if He will recognize them as His disciples or just let them go right by.
• There is, sadly, the dog who is ill, who finds a quiet and lonely spot to be away from others. When the master returns, he searches for the dog and recognizes it does not feel well. At a time when the master wants to love the dog the most, the poor thing hides and refuses love and attention. Among the saddest moment of being a priest is, for me, seeing people do the same thing. Knowing that someone is ill, or hurting, or in a tough spot in life, I look in vain to see them at Mass or involved in parish activities. At a time when they may need the love of God and companionship of fellow Believers the most, they choose to be alone and withdrawn.

• There’s the dog who warmly greets the master at his return, with excitedly wagging tail and wet kisses, but who has slept on the couch and the beds all day. When the master notices the warm, sagging cushions and the hair on the pillows, and asks, “Did you sleep on the couch even though you know you shouldn’t do that?” the dog gives that look that says, “Who, me?” Do you know anyone like that? Doing only what makes them feel good, feel comfortable, feel satisfied throughout life, aware of right from wrong but caring little, and ready to give the Lord the look that says, “Who me?” when He returns.

• There’s the dog who seems to know what time it is, even without a watch on its wrist. At the same time of the day, driven by clues we cannot see or hear, the dog sits by the door or watches at the window for the master to return. The vigilance is not, however, repeated at other times of the day – only when it is time for the master to return. Many people seem to know when it’s time to go to Mass each Sunday, but during the rest of the week they pay little heed to waiting, watching, listening, sensing where the Lord might be found, and where His grace may be waiting for us.

• There are those dogs who seem to remain alert, not panicking but vigilant, an ear raised, an eye open, senses heightened, while at the same time enjoying a nap or a drink or a playful moment. This is what the grace-filled Believer, the Christian imbued with Advent year-round, experiences: the ability to live and enjoy life thoroughly and prudently and morally, yet always alert to see, hear, and receive the presence of Jesus in the present moment, and ready for the return of the Lord now or whenever it occurs.

So, there’s my invitation to you: be ready to wag your tail when you catch a glimpse of the Lord, waiting at all times with one ear raised and one eye open, eager to see Him whether far off or near, as we wait in joyful hope for His return.


December 14, 2013
Msgr. William J. King

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