Of Popes & Animals

~by Susi Pittman

Pope Francis a few years ago was in the news for reaffirming a quote by Pope Paul VI regarding animals being in heaven. One TV morning show marveled at the fact that the Pope would even believe such, stating that Catholic theology doesn’t believe animals go to heaven. Does our Catholic faith teach that animals don’t go to heaven?

The Roman Catholic Church has been timeless in its teachings of Creation and in its “openness” to animals indeed being in heaven, though it neither rejects nor affirms if they are. Our Church has recorded history of personal visions of heaven by some of our great saints, and there are the Biblical scriptures that certainly add credence to believing that heaven holds more than just human souls.

Saint John Bosco, founder of the Salesian Order of priests was privileged to have been shown the “glorified natural” of heaven, by his guide, St. Dominic where upon he made this statement:

Broad, imposing avenues divided the plain into grand gardens of indescribable beauty…None of the plants we know could ever give you an idea of those flowers…The very grass, the flowers, the trees, the fruit—all were of singular and magnificent beauty. The various kinds of plants were beyond counting. Each species and each single plant sparkled with a brilliance of its own.

Saint John Bosco was so amazed and overwhelmed with wonder, he asked St. Dominic; I am shaking because I don’t know where I am. Is this the reward of the just?

To which he was given this answer; Not at all! Here we do not enjoy supernatural happiness but only a natural one, though greatly magnified…enhanced by God’s power! (Dreams, Visions & Prophecies of Don Bosco; Don Bosco Publications, New Rochelle, New York; copyright 1986)

Certainly this was a heavenly vision of creation renewed, perfected. And if there is a place for the flora of creation, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the Creator would also have planned for the animate creation?

Many other of our Catholic saints have been given visions of heaven in many glorious fashions which included natural things and creatures: St. John the Apostle, St. Bridget, St. Monica, St. Hildegard, St. Padre Pio, St. Faustina, St. Bridget, St. Catherine, St. Gertrude, St. Mechtilde, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi,  St. Lydwine of Schiedam, St. Christina the Astonishing, Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich, Bl. Alexandrina, Sr. Josefa Menendez, and others.

Certainly Saint Thomas Aquinas’ vision of heaven was the most profound. Saint Thomas was the author of Summa Theologica, the most important theological work ever produced. He was given a vision of heaven at Mass on December 6, 1273, to which he gave a powerful statement; I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw. (Butler’s Lives of the Saints; Thurston & Attwater Revision)

If what he was shown out-weighed everything he had ever written, (he was brilliant and gifted) can you imagine what must have been revealed to him, to stop him from writing ever again?

I tend to think, that having followed Aristotle’s philosophical line in believing animals did not have an eternal continuity, he might have seen so many creatures beyond man surrounding the Glory of God that it completely confounded him. (My personal reflection with a smile)

A book titled, The Church and Kindness to Animals, copyrighted in 1906, is full of instruction, directives and stories from Popes, Cardinals, Priests and Saints regarding the care and destiny of animals and is certainly a treasure to any Catholic who seeks consolation and hope for heaven for animals. In this book, Cardinal Ferdinand Donnet, an extremely respected holy man of sterling qualities, speaking at an Agricultural Meeting in France in 1866 says:

But if, as I like to bear witness, you are just and good to each other, why should you not also be just, good, and compassionate to the animals which help you to make your land productive, and to distribute its fruits? Our power over the creatures which surround us comes from God Himself…The Church, by the voice of her Sovereign Pontiffs, has placed herself at the head of the movement. (note: supporting a movement for compassion to animals) Human passions are revealed in the disastrous excesses which are found everywhere in nature; and religion has simply to combat them wherever they show themselves. It is in this sense that it has been said that the power of the Redemption has descended on all creatures, and that its merciful Author would restore the whole world. ‘To restore all things in Christ!’

Well, that certainly sounds like an endorsement for animals in heaven!

During a public audience in 1990, Pope Saint John Paul II affirmed, also the animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren. Man uniquely has a soul that has been given intellect, rationale and free will, unlike the animals that are hard-wired to be exactly as God intended, but without free will and rationale.

Pope Paul VI is credited with comforting a young boy whose dog had died and affirming; One day we will see our animals again in eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all God’s creatures.

We have Pope Leo XII that kept a pet dog in the Vatican and Pope Pius XII who kept a pet bird that enjoyed his freedom in and about the Papal apartment. In many of his actions, Pope Pius XII showed a great solicitude for animals.

Pope Benedict XVI adored cats and the feeling was mutually returned to His Holiness by the stray feline community in Rome.

As our Church’s “then” Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI had so many of his feline friends follow him from his apartment to the Vatican one day, that the Swiss Guard was heard to remark; The cats are laying siege to the Holy See!

So you see, the Catholic Church Pontiffs have certainly lent their own support of our lesser brethren and importantly, that they have given scriptural response to the fact that animals are included in the Redemptive plan.

I wrote my book Animals In Heaven? Catholics Want To Know! 5 years ago with this message of hope and comfort shared down through the ages in the traditions of the Catholic faith.

Biblical revelation and Church tradition informs us that we are only strangers in a strange land, nomads on a journey in search of a homeland. One that asks us to keep in mind that we are part of a greater family, not only human, but one that is the non-human and elemental, established by God as written in Genesis.

Created in the image of God, given intellect, free will and a unique human soul, humankind is called upon to act in peaceful, responsible stewardship, committed to the sound ecological and environmental virtues of hospitality and humility for this Earth, our home away from home.

So here are a few Biblical reminders from the Creator:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth. ~Colossians 1:15-16

God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all in these days has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world…and upholding all things by the word of his power…Hebrews 1:1-3

For the eager longing of creation awaits the revelation of the sons of God. For creation was made subject to vanity—not by its own will but by reason of him who made it subject—in hope, because creation itself also will be delivered from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God. For we know that all creation groans and travails in pain until now. Romans 8:19-22

And he who was sitting on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new!” And he said, “Write, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelations 21:5. The Bible footnote under this particular passage states: The quality of the earth will be changed but not the substance.

These scriptures and so many more could fill another book.

On a final note, there comes from the Old Testament, a testimony to the covenant God initiated with all of creation at the beginning of time and one that Jesus would affirm in the new covenant:

What now is has already been; what is to be, already is; and God restores what would otherwise be displaced. Ecclesiastes 3:15. The Bible footnote on this verse states: God restores; the meaning is probably that God allows no part of His creation to drop out of existence.

**Please know that all Bible scripture is from the Douay Rheims Edition, 1962.

** All emphasis by underline is mine

The “mystery” revealed in the Sacred Scriptures to all humankind is that God through Christ reconciles ALL things unto Himself. ALL THINGS.

If it were different, Jesus would have told us so. He would have said, only man…my favorite creature only…no animals allowed. He would have finished in Revelation with, Behold, I make all men new! But he did not.

Again and again, ALL THINGS resounds from the pages of scripture in the redemption picture, to no exclusions.

I don’t have any doubts what ALL THINGS mean. Let the intellectual’s rail with their ha-rumphs!

Animals In Heaven? I’m counting the days until, God willing, Jesus takes me by the hand and shines the beauty of the glorified natural upon my face, and in the splendor of heaven, where God has collected ALL his “good” inventory, I will share with Him in the grand reunion of ALL my human and non-human earthly family.

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