FAREWELL BEST FRIEND By Fr. Mark
On Saturday, November 17, Loki the Parish Pooch suffered a stroke shortly after rising for the day. He died in my arms a few hours later, just three days shy of celebrating his 16th Birthday.
A Standard Manchester Terrier, Loki was born on November 20, 2002 and entered my life eight weeks later. I was stationed at St. Joseph’s Parish in Medway at the time, a very dark time as it was the year the abuse scandal broke. Like most of us, I had known only good and holy priests during my life. So I was horrified and badly shaken by the revelations of the crimes committed by some, and the mishandling of those crimes by others.
It would be an exaggeration to say that Loki saved my priesthood. But during those awful news days, when there was so much sorrow and ugliness, having that little black and tan puppy romping around and making me laugh with his antics was truly a balm and blessing.
As the years went on, Loki would be a great gift to my ministry. At the Medway Dog Park, for instance, people would get to know me as a fellow dog owner before even learning I was a priest. They would then often open up to talk about their faith, their trials and sorrows. I heard no less than five Confessions standing in a corner of that dog park – all thanks to Loki.
At both St. Joseph and St. Mary’s Rectories, Loki also did his part. Upon hearing the doorbell, he would race to the front parlor to greet whoever the secretary let in. When I got there, the appointment was usually petting Loki; and when I tried to put him out, Loki would make such a show of sadness that almost always the visitors would say, “O let him stay, Father, we love dogs.” At which point Loki would fly up onto my chair and sit quietly for the rest of our meeting. Loki heard many private confidences at these meetings, but never repeated a single one, strict as any confessor under the seal.
Some people are nervous coming to a rectory, and having a dog there put them at their ease and was a great conversation starter and icebreaker. To be honest, Loki was not universally all warm and fuzzy. Manchesters are described as “very affectionate to family, but aloof with strangers.” Loki was no exception. He was fine with other people, just not very interested. However – if someone was very upset or started to cry, Loki would leave my chair, walk over and jump onto the sofa with them. In response to their pain, he would snuggle up beside them to be petted, those strokes of the hand helping to calm and soothe their souls.
Loki only truly disliked mailmen (he was traditional that way), and my good friend Fr. Brian Mahoney. Loki figured out early on that when Fr. Brian came over it usually meant I was going out for a while or even worse, leaving on vacation. For this reason, poor Fr. Brian was always greeted with growls and the barring of teeth. Sorry Brian. But Loki hated to be separated from me for any reason. He was “Dog Velcro,” following me everywhere around the rectory and more devoted than any animal I’ve ever known. Loki was devastated when I went out and he was left behind. Whenever I got into my car without him, his little head would be there in the kitchen window by the driveway, his eyes full of sorrow and betrayal.
When I left the rectory for any significant amount of time, Loki would go into the dark dining room and howl, loudly and mournfully. He would vigilantly await my return, and for the past sixteen years I never came home without receiving his joyful greeting, barking, jumping and licking. What a difference to enter the silent, empty rectory now. In Catholic tradition, a dog waiting alertly and expectantly for his master’s return has often been used as a symbol for how good Christians should await the return of Jesus. If only we could all be that devoted and faithful!
Loki had many good friends during his life, including Monsignor Timothy Moran and Fr. David Lewis. When Loki fell seriously ill this past summer and it looked like the end, both of them visited with and blessed Loki – Fr. David driving all the way down from Peabody to do so. I will always be grateful to Monsignor Moran for allowing me to get Loki when I was with him in Medway, and for the love Fr. David lavished on Loki in Holliston. Named for the Norse god of mischief, Loki often lived up to his name. If Fr. David and I came home and found Loki had flipped the trash, or eaten butter or whatever, I would say sternly, “LOKI! Look what you did!” At which Loki would leap into Fr. David’s arms and ashamedly hide his head. Fr. David would laugh and stroking Loki say, “I am the Refugium Peccatorum – the Refuge of Sinners.”
Probably Loki’s best friend besides myself was our secretary Mary Beth Harris. When I was out, Loki would often sit behind her on her office chair while she worked. Mary Beth also cared for Loki whenever I was on vacation, helped out with walks and feedings when I was tied up, and above all gave Loki constant love. I am forever grateful for her generosity and kindness to him.
For myself, I thank God for the gift that Loki was in my life. His love of playing kept me from becoming too serious. His love of walking got me up and exercising – including on cold or stormy days when I would otherwise have not. His love for me spoke always of the unconditional love of God – joyful, forgiving and devoted in a way I never deserved. All living creatures come from God, and I truly believe that those animals that love us and allow us to become better people by our love for them, have a place with God Who is love.
Until arthritis prevented him the last year or so, one of Loki’s favorite things was to run up the rectory stairs ahead of me. He would grab his favorite ball, and by the time I got to the top step, he would be there above me, crouched in the play position, shaking his ball in his mouth, trying to entice me to play. More often than not he succeeded. In art, heaven is sometimes portrayed as atop a golden stair. And if one day I am blessed to climb those sacred steps, I suspect Loki will be there waiting at the top, young and hale once more – ready to play.
God bless you best friend. May the Lord Who made you hold you safe for me. Amen.
“All things of creation are children of the Father and thus brothers of man.” – St. Francis of Assisi
“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring – it was peace.” – Milan Kundera