No dogs allowed
At the end of a Mass that we attended, the lector announced that churchgoers should not bring their dogs with them into church.
The prohibition seemed reasonable, and I knew why it came about. We had seen a lady walking a terrier into the church, settling it beside her while she prayed.
I could feel the intensity of her prayer, and it seemed the dog did too, because it just sat quietly beside her and did not do anything unsanitary.
But the sight distracted the church crowd, especially the dog-lovers among them, who instead of looking towards the altar kept smiling at the furry, sullen-looking canine.
It goes without saying that animals stay away from places of worship, unless they qualify, in certain religions, for sacrifice.
Judaism, for instance, which, before the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 AD, had animal sacrifice for purposes of atonement, among others, the reason why they used oxen, sheep and doves.
Worshippers could buy them on the spot at the outer court of the temple, which merchants overpriced.
And so one could hear people haggling amidst the mooing and the cooing of the cattle and turtle doves, respectively, and the praying of the worshippers.
Into the bargain, the money changers set up their tables close by.
Into such a scene walked Jesus, and of this John writes in his Gospel: “He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.’”
El Greco made a painting of this scene, entitled “Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple.” A Cretan by birth, El Greco began as a practitioner of 15th-century Byzantine art, which dealt mostly with icons, those of which that reached Europe coming from Crete, perhaps the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help ranking among the top examples.
El Greco imbibed the techniques of Western art when he went to Venice. During his stay there, he painted “Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple,” which many consider as the masterpiece of his Venetian period.
The rather perplexing architectural setting of and the unusual poses of the people in the painting we might attribute to the fact that El Greco had just shifted from the flat space of Byzantine art to the three-dimensional space of Western painting.
But already we witness a play of opulent colors, which the painter must have learned from his Venetian masters, Titian among them.
Still we find in the painting no traces of the animals that John writes about – oxen, sheep, doves – the abuse in the sale of which, together with the money-changing activities – drew Jesus’ ire.
One might speculate, with not a little unfairness, that El Greco could have installed at the feet of the swooning, half-draped women, a terrified lamb or two, or, somewhere in the confusion, turtle doves, wings flapping and a leg raised behind as if in an attitude.
Of course, Jesus railed, not against the animals but their sellers, against their insensitivity to the sacredness of the temple, their valuing of money over soul, their secular slant and outlook.
Which makes me think, that, aside from their Yorkshire terriers and Persian cats, those who go to church should likewise leave behind their spiritual pets, those that pass in and out of the rooms of their minds – the worldly thoughts and feelings that in the imagination assume the figures of the voluptuous men and women in the El Greco painting, the distractions that at the slightest tug of the leash they hug and walk into their inner sanctum, and feed with the attention and love that they should reserve only for the Lord.
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