“This month I would like to share a real-life story with you that has moved many people throughout Italy. It is the story of Tommy, a 12-year-old half-breed dog which, since the day of the death of Maria Lochi, his owner, has been going to church every day, at the same time, following the path he took for years when his owner was still alive.
Tommy enters the church, lies down in front of the altar, ‘participates’ in the Mass, and then leaves. He always stays at the same spot where the coffin was placed on the day of the funeral – the exact place where he last saw the creature who had loved him more than anybody else: Maria Lochi. Perhaps Tommy hopes to see Maria again or perhaps he can still feel her presence in that church and desires to keep her memory alive, thus proving that his love is forever and that it extends even beyond the grave. Fr Donato Panna, the parish priest, allows the dog to stay in church, showing sensitivity and compassion for the suffering of this animal which, though not human, was created by God and is loved by Him.
Now the little town of San Donaci near Brindisi in southern Italy, which probably never expressed that much solidarity to Maria, has decided to ‘adopt’ the dog, and Tommy has become the darling of the town.
The dog with his sad eyes has made headlines all over the world, but this story should also act as a kind of rebuke for us Christians – we are admiring a non-rational creature for doing what many rational human beings have stopped doing: attending Mass.
As Catholics we are all supposed to go to Sunday Mass to uphold a spiritual commitment that is simple, doable and transformative. I therefore invite those of you who may have lapsed a little to consider the following seven good reasons for going to church, though the list makes no claim to be exhaustive.
1. We go to Mass because we have been invited. Jesus Himself invites us to worship the Father in and with Him. Our participation in the liturgy of the Eucharist is an act of reverence toward Christ who reveals Himself in this most blessed sacrament.
2. We participate in Mass because we love the Lord. A famous passage from the ‘Confessions’ of St Augustine states, ‘You have made us for yourself, oh Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’
3. We attend Mass because we are grateful to God for His love and everything He has given us. In fact, the word ‘eucharist’ refers to an act of thanksgiving to God.
4. We go to Mass to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. St Cyril of Jerusalem states that we ‘call upon God in His mercy to send His Holy Spirit upon the offerings before us, to transform the bread into the body of Christ and the wine into the blood of Christ. Whatever the Holy Spirit touches is sanctified and completely transformed.’ And St John Chrysostom notes, ‘As grace comes down upon the victim, the souls of all are thereby transformed.’
5. We attend Mass to be part of the Body of Christ. Through the Eucharist and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we are united with Christ and with one another in Him.
6. We go to Mass to be refreshed and renewed. After the final blessing we take God into our daily lives at home, school and work. ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,’ says the priest; we go to Mass not only to worship. We ourselves are sacrificed to the Father with Christ really present in the Eucharist so that we may be graced, transformed and prepared to go out and do Christ’s work, and to be His presence in the ordinary places of our lives.
7. We attend Mass in order to learn from Jesus how to love our neighbour. At Mass our souls are filled with Christ’s power and strength, and we are given the means to love one another as He commanded. The Christ we receive in Holy Communion is the same Christ who asks us to show true love to our neighbour, especially the poorest and most needy.
Obviously Tommy, our cute dog, does not know any of this, nor will he ever be able to understand it. He is content with much less than these seven reasons to attend Mass every day at the church of Santa Maria Assunta at San Donaci, Brindisi. For him love is more than enough.
– This article by Fr Mario was published in “Messenger of Saint Anthony”, issue April 2013. For subscriptions, please contact: Messenger of St Anthony, Basilica del Santo, via Orto Botanico 11, 35123 Padua, Italy.