Did I ever tell you about Coco Chanel? Not the French fashion designer, the woman who invented the little black cocktail dress. I mean my small, brown Chihuahua, who has her own distinctive sense of style, and who claims to be related to the great Parisian couturier. My Coco says she’s a fifth cousin, after whom the cologne is named.
Coco’s been with me now for almost two years. Best Christmas present ever! She was so shy! I remember my mother, suggesting that I ring the doorbell to see if she could bark. No one has ever doubted her vocal chords since. Coco likes to strike a Rin Tin Tin pose, using the top of the sofa for a butte. From there, she barks at anything that moves on Main Street. Fortunately, this is small-town Kansas, so Coco can also do plenty of napping.
Coco loves snoozing, especially in the sun coming through a window. She often stretches out a good nine inches on her side, and, if I come through the door, she flips onto her back, arches her chest, and says: “You there. How about a scratch?” If I join her for a nap, she positions herself between my arm and chest. Then she lays her snout down into the bend of my arm and contentedly smacks her lips.
I mention Coco because of her Zacchaeus-like attitude toward life. No, she can’t climb trees, and, trust me, the squirrels in the yard never cease to throw that fact down at her. Yet she never fails to raise the roof if someone approaches. Couples who come for premarital counseling make excuses for her: “She probably smells my dog on me. Or, she smells the cattle on him.” Eventually, Coco stops yipping, jumps into my lap, and scatters their premarital papers. Then she lies down on my thigh, puts her head on her paws, and says to the couple: “So, you really want to get married? Huh?”
Of course, she’s never more like Zacchaeus than when I come home. Coco comes running, doing a little dance that involves her rapidly wagging her derriere in multiple directions. And oh, my Coco is a kisser! If I had a dollar for every one she’s given me, I’d be running for president.
The Gospels don’t record mere anecdotes. They report what the evangelists believe we need to know in order to be disciples of Jesus Christ. In the story of Zacchaeus, St. Luke describes the pluck that the Gospel demands of a disciple. But the evangelist does much more. This story aptly encapsulates his Gospel, in which God’s very nature, God’s orientation toward us, is revealed.
In the person of Jesus Christ, God comes among us as the one who searches for us, who seeks us out, who sees us and loves us, even when we are having so much trouble espying him. As Pope Francis puts it, mercy is “the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us.” Christ simply is “mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness” (“Misericordiae Vultus,” No. 2).
The ancient Greeks emphasized God’s impassible perfection, and rightly so. But in the Christ, God reveals God’s self as the ancient one of Israel, in whom mercy and desire are met. Jew and Greek both emphasize God’s transcendence, but the God of Israel, revealed in the Christ, bespeaks God’s ardor, God’s passionate love, which is anything but passive.
We take our dogs for granted. Pity, but it is how we respond to most of God’s blessings. Yet whenever I come home, after a long day, and, sometimes, several emotional tsunamis, I know that a little brown Chihuahua is racing to the door to say that she has never been so happy to see me. It may sound silly, but if only we understood that is how Christ always comes toward us. (You knew it was coming.) Christ is like a Chihuahua: fiercely protective and constantly seeking to share the love.
Of course, animals cannot reflect the depth of Trinitarian love, which human beings can share. The love that pets show to us does not replace the human. Yet consider this. They do love us without the taint of sin. They love as God intended them to love. We humans cannot always say the same.
The saints have long told us that Israel’s great love song, The Song of Songs, describes the soul and God.
I’ve got to check the Hebrew. I’m not sure that “gazelle” isn’t a mistranslation of “little Chihuahua pup.”
Wisdom 11: 22-12:2 2 Thessalonians 1: 11-2:2 Luke 19: 1-10