December 18, 2009

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Should animals be part of the Nativity scene?

Shirley Vogler MeisterA soothing time for me during the hectic Advent season is preparing the family Nativity scene, also known as a crèche.

Christian churches do the same thing in more splendid ways—or more lively ways when a Nativity scene includes actual people in the roles of our Blessed Mother Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus, surrounded by either the Wise Men or a variety of animals or both.

Years ago, I took my youngest daughter, Lisa, to see the large crèche at St. Peter’s Cathedral in my hometown of Belleville, Ill.

As we walked down a long aisle in the cathedral to enjoy this holy scene, she said loudly, “Happy birthday, Jesus.”

Such an expression was not usually used at that time, but it warmed my heart and the hearts of others around us.

However, one time long after that—while viewing another Nativity scene elsewhere—I heard an adult express distress in seeing more than the usual animals commonly depicted at the holy site.

I wish I could have shared with him my belief that when I get to heaven my loved ones who preceded me in death, as well as all of the animals I have cared for through the years, will be with God and pre-deceased friends and family to welcome me there.

Someone else years ago told me that my idea is ludicrous, perhaps even sacrilegious.

So I was especially happy when I recently read a feature story in The Criterion about a book that proves my point. It is titled Will I See My Dog in Heaven? The author is Franciscan Father Jack Wintz of Cincinnati, who has been writing and editing for St. Anthony Messenger magazine since 1972. He is also the author of an e-mail newsletter called “Friar Jack’s E-aspirations” (

Friar Jack doesn’t just acknowledge the presence of dogs in heaven. He also speaks for all animal life and uses the Holy Bible for a reference source. His book is profound. Naturally, he taps into writings attributed to St. Francis, who always glorified Our Creator’s work. He also closes his book with “Three Prayers of Blessing for Any Animal, Fish, Bird or Other Creature.” He encourages gathering family and friends for these blessings.

The subtitle for his book is God’s Saving Love for the Whole Family of Creation. Each chapter brought me closer to the understanding of God’s love for all his creatures. One chapter, the “Blessing of Pets,” brought happy tears to my eyes—and a renewed feeling of oneness with God’s love and with nature as he created it.

Yes, I do believe that the Christmas crèche may include all manner of God’s creatures.

Will I See My Dog in Heaven? is published by Paraclete Press in Brewster, Mass. Log on to for more information.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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