Sight, Sound and Beyond

Posts tagged ‘Animals in Heaven’

Sofia

“Do you think she is in heaven?” My mother asked me a couple months ago.  She was referring to her 12 year old West Highland White Terrier, who passed away due to the presence of a brain tumor.  I was on vacation with my friend Mary when Sofia took a turn for the worse.  Sofia had suffered from terrible seizures, and by the time my parents got her to the vet to be put down, she was barely conscious.

The last I had seen her Sofia was in pretty good spirits.  I was not aware that she had a brain tumor.  I had left for vacation when the vet gave the diagnosis to my parents.   Imagine my surprise when I found out what was going on.  The evening before I had found out the news of her passing, I had a very vivid dream about her.  I saw her coming toward me, and she was happy.  I took it as a message from God that she was fine and living happily with Him.  I believe that God takes pleasure in living with his creatures, even a small dog like Sofia.

But of course all kinds of theological questions came to mind, which resulted in me feeling very anxious.  Does Sofia still exist?  Is she totally gone?  St. Thomas Acquaints, a theologian and Doctor of the Church, would say that Sofia’s soul ceased to exist after physical death because only human beings have immortal souls.

I was so confused and anxious that I emailed a priest that used to minister at my home parish.  He assured me that God does not eternally destroy that which He creates.  I know that God doesn’t eternally destroy what He creates, but is that the same thing as allowing what He creates to go out of existence?

Many Catholics have told me that Heaven is only for human beings.  It has been said to me: “Jesus did not die for our pets,” “Animals do not have free will” or “Animals are not capable of love.”  A lot of these things are hard for me to swallow.  I get mixed answers because the truth is that no one really knows.  Even The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not provide an answer.

I know that animals are not human beings and are not created in the image and likeness of God, but they were still created by God and God said they were good right?  The issue I have is not whether or not I will see Sofia in heaven, but whether or not Sofia even still exists.  The thought of her being lost forever is quite upsetting.  It is not so much that I must see her again, but rather to have the assurance that she still happily  lives on in the presence of her Creator.  It is one thing to not see your dog, but it is a completely different thing to never see your dog and to be told she no longer exists.  Do you see the difference?

I was not Sofia’s favorite human.  My mother was.  They had a special relationship, and Sofia was her little buddy.  I have fond memories of the two of them watching TV together on the couch.  Even though I was not Sofia’s favorite human, I still loved her.  After all, I was a part of her life.  I enjoyed sitting next to her, petting her and giving her belly rubs.  I would take her for walks outside and keep her company when my mother wasn’t home.  Sofia had a fiery personality.  Some moments she was stubborn and tough as nails, but that would change and she would reveal her happy, playful side.  She loved to run around and look out the window.  She especially enjoyed playing with my nieces and nephew.

When my mother asked if Sofia is in heaven, I had to answer as best as I could.  Remember, I am not a Doctor of the Church, and I don’t have any degrees in Catholic theology.  I didn’t even attend Catholic school so what can I possibly know?  I am as clueless as they come.

I believe it is very possible that Sofia is in Heaven and that she is with God.  The whole of creation is a family.  Yes, we are children of God, but the rest of creation is still part of God’s family as well.  Maybe we could view them as God’s extended family.   We all have our immediate families yes?  We also have relatives.  Perhaps God’s family is much like that.  We are his children and are members of His immediate family, but our non human brethren are family, too.  Perhaps the animals are like adoptive “nieces and nephews.”  Whatever the case may be, God is the creator of all living things and all the living creatures are His.

Another possibility is Sofia could be part of the New Earth, which will come about after the final judgment.  Sofia lived the way a dog should live during her time spent on Earth.  Perhaps after the resurrection she could continue to live out her earthly existence.  One thing is for certain: God doesn’t have limits.  If he can create the universe and the world out of nothing, He can certainly recreate a creature that once existed.  Perhaps Sofia doesn’t have an immortal soul likes humans do, but God could recreate her one way or another if He wills it.

Many will say that animals do not know God, but Sofia lived among humans who love God.  I believe that my mother helped Sofia come to know God at some level.  How?  Well, my mother took care of her and loved her just as God loves and cares for us.   C.S. Lewis adopts a similar view, which is discussed in his book titled The Problem of Pain.

If, nevertheless, the strong conviction which we have of a real, though doubtless rudimentary, selfhood in the higher animals, and specially in those we tame, is not an illusion, their destiny demands a somewhat deeper consideration … Man was appointed by God to have dominion over the beasts, and everything a man does to an animal is either a lawful exercise, or a sacrilegious abuse, of an authority by Divine right. The tame animal is therefore, in the deepest sense, the only ‘natural’ animal – the only one we see occupying the place it was made to occupy, and it is on the tame animal that we must base all our doctrine of beasts. Now it will be seen that, in so far as the tame animal has a real self or personality, it owes this almost entirely to its master.

What Lewis suggests here is that we human beings are able to make known to our animal companions a certain sense of self.  Thus, it is through their relationships with human beings that animals can enter into heaven.  It sounds quite similar to how it is through our relationship with Jesus Christ that we human beings can enter into eternity with God.

C.S. Lewis concludes.

“And in this way it seems to me possible that certain animals may have an immortality, not in themselves, but in the immortality of their masters,”

I would also like to add that Animals also live in the present moment.  They are not stuck in the past or worrying about the future the way human beings are.  Because of our preoccupation with the past and future, we often miss out on the present.  Animals are always in the present moment, and to be in the present moment is to truly be in the presences of God.  After all, God is the great I Am, not the the great I Was or the great I Will Be right?  God encompasses the past present and future. 

I do not have all the answers, but I have written another post related to this topic called Animals in Heaven, One Catholic’s Perspective.  I know many will disagree with me, especially those with strong backgrounds in Catholic theology or those who had the privilege to receive a catholic education, but my wish is not so much so see Sofia in Heaven (she probably would have little interest in seeing me anyways).  My wish is that Sofia be with God in Heaven where she will be most happy and free from suffering.

And so I end by leaving you with the following advice: If you have lost an animal in your lifetime, or if you worry what will become of your beloved friend after his or her physical death, do not pray that he or she will enter into heaven so that you can see them again, but pray that they may enter Heaven  so that they can be with God.  While we may love them dearly, no one is a better lover than God.  If you love anyone, whether it be a another human being or a small creature like a small dog like Sofia, pray that at that moment of death, he or she will be reunited with the greatest love of all: their Creator, who is love itself.  After all, it is because of God that we all love in the first place.

 

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Animals in Heaven, One Catholic’s Perspective

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St. Francis Preaching to the Birds – Gioto di Bondone (c.1267-1337)

“We were taught that animals don’t go to heaven because they don’t have souls, ” my mother once told me.  She and my father had attended at 12 years of Catholic School.  My father also continued on to attend a Catholic College.  Then there is me who attended Public School and attended regular college, so what do I know right?

As a Roman Catholic, one of the things I struggle with the question of whether or not animals are included in God’s plan of salvation.  In other words, do they go to heaven or do they cease to exist all together after physical death?  I have received mixed answers from various sources.  Some people have told me that animals do not have souls because they lack free will.  Some, like St Thomas Aquinas, have mentioned that while animals do have souls, their souls are not immortal.  Therefore, when they die, their souls die as well.  Then there are a couple priests who have told me that, yes, animals do go to heaven because God is Love and thus He would never destroy that which He creates.

The thought of animals, especially my two avian companions, ceasing to exist after physical death is an upsetting thought for me.  I don’t know why I am so sensitive about it.  I am probably the only Catholic who prays for animals.  Animals have been a great service to us, providing us with transportation, clothing and food.  I pray for them all because like us, they are God’s creatures too.  Whenever I learn of an an animal companion who has passed away, I pray he or she has been reunited with God in Heaven.

One friend once said something like, “Oh I understand why you feel this way.  It’s okay to love your birds.  After all, you don’t have children.”  Perhaps, if I were married with children, I might sing a different tune about animals right?  Nah, I doubt it.

Another friend of mine said: “Well, you believe that your birds go to Heaven because you can’t stand the thought of never seeing them again after they die.”  I have to admit, she was partially right, but my ideas are not purely based on emotional attachment.

The Garden of Eden

In the bible, there are examples of God’s love for animals.  In the book of Genesis, God created everything: time, space, land and sea, vegetation, birds, sea creatures, land animals and human beings.  God created everything and everything was good.  Why was it good?  Everything was good because God created it.  It was not something that to be earned.  Prior to the fall of our parents, Adam and Eve, everyone lived in perfect communion with God.  You could say that all living creatures were in a perfect state of grace where there was no separation between God and them.  It is quite beautiful to think about, but this paradise didn’t last long.  After the fall of our parents,  the world became cursed and evil began to spread.  Thus we human beings became separated from God.

I imagine Heaven to be an extension of the Garden of Eden, which was meant to be an eternal paradise for God to live among all creation in perfect harmony.   If this is how it was in the beginning, why would God not want to include all creation in His kingdom yet to come?  The book of Revelations tells us that there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth.  Surely at the very least, our non human brethren would be included in the New Earth.  Wouldn’t you think?

Noah’s Ark

Everyone is familiar with the story of Noah, the guy that was chosen by God to build an ark or large boat for his family and himself to escape the great flood that God was going to send in response to humanity’s wickedness.  Because of Noah’s righteousness, He and his family would be spared.  Oh and wait, quite a few others were spared as well.  Who else came along for the ride in Noah’s ark?  Animals of course.  Remember that?  God told Noah to gather two of every kind.  This is quite interesting don’t you think?  God can create anything out of nothing.  I mean that’s how the earth came about right?  He could have easily told Noah to forget about the animals and just gather his family.  I mean after the flood ended, God could just recreate new animals right?  Why would God include the animals to be part of Noah’s ark?

This story illustrate God’s mercy and saving power for not just human beings but for all creation.  God is a lover of all creation.  His love is inclusive, not exclusive.

Someone once told me that animals reflect the innocence of God.  Sure, they don’t have a free will as we human beings do, but animals have something that we as human beings lack: the ability to live in the present moment.  Animals don’t fret about the future or get stuck in the past the way we do.  They live completely in the present moment and to continuously live in the present moment is to truly be in the presence of God.

St. Francis of Assisi

Why did St Francis address animals as his brothers and sisters?  Why did he treat them with such respect?  St. Francis viewed animals as part of God’s family.  He said of animals:

“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission — to be of service to them wherever they require it.”

It is his love and respect for animals that makes him one of my favorite saints.

I had Sunny and Nikki blessed the day prior to the feast of St Francis to confirm their membership of God’s Family.  I got a lot of laughs from people but it felt like the right thing to do.   To learn more about Sunny and Nikki’s blessing read “To Bless or Not to Bless”

Why Do I Want Sunny and NIkki to Go to Heaven?

When you love someone, even a small bird whose head is smaller than your eyeball, you want only the best for him or her.  Many cannot understand what it means to love a small creature like a small parrot.  It is really not that much different from loving a human being.  Sure they do not have our intelligence, but they have the integrity, innocence and curiosity of young children.  Living with Sunny and Nikki is like living with two permanent two-year-old children!

Sunny and Nikki will both be 13 years old next year, and I love them more now than I did when I first adopted them.   I often include them in some of my spiritual practices, which include reading passages from the bible.  This probably sounds ridiculous to many, but in Chapter 16, verse 15 in Mark’s Gospel Jesus did say:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news] to the whole creation.”

Well, the last I checked, the whole of creation included birds.

Anyway, I digress from the question at hand.  Why do I want Sunny and Nikki to go to Heaven?  I want the best for them, and what could be better than to be in eternal and perfect communion with God?

My wish for the girls going to heaven does not primarily stem from my wish for them to be with me, but rather to be well taken care of by God and be included in His plan of salvation.  I have had dreams about what it will be like after I die.  The dream is set in the future, and I do get to heaven.  In the dreams I do see those who have gone before me: family, friends and the animals I have known and loved.  For a short moment I see the girls.  All my loved ones are there, but they are not the main focus.  My main focus is being with God, the source of all Good and who is Love.  I believe that when we go to Heaven it will be exactly like attending Mass.  We will be in attendance as one family, which includes the angels, saints, and our non human brethren, but our focus will be on the one who has created us.  He is the reason that we love in the first place.

At the end of the musical, Les Misérables, a memorable line is sung:

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

To love anyone, including something as small as bird is to know the love of God.  Like animals, we human beings are creatures.  We are all of God’s creatures and compared to His infinite power and love, we are but a speck of dust, but like I love two little birds, God loves all his creatures both great and small.

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