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Question from a reader: “My wife and I had to put our beloved precious dog, Cosmo, to sleep. He was in end stage liver disease. He was 12 years and almost 4 months old. I have a questions for you. Where do our pets go after they die? Will we ever see them again?”
God loves all of creation, and Christ redeems all of creation. This includes our pets.
Pope Paul VI was said to have once told a distraught boy whose dog had died: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
Jesus told his disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Not “to every human being,” but “to every creature“. St. Francis understood this to mean, “God wishes other creatures besides humans to be included in the plan of salvation” (from the Sermon to the Fishes of the Sea).
Revelation 5:13 says, “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: ‘To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever'”. In this picture of heaven, all creatures are present and praising God together with us humans.
The question that causes debates and disagreements on this in Christian theology is: Do animals have souls? While we cannot be absolutely certain of the answer, any pet owner knows that some animals, if not all, have personalities. Personalities are affected by the brain (as evidence by personality changes when a person has a stroke or dementia), but does this mean that our personalities are completely controlled by our brains?
Catholic theology teaches that our souls are purified when we die (we call the process of purification “purgatory”). Therefore, since our holiness directly affects our personality, we can conclude that purification can only happen if our personalities are more than our brain.
Only humans have been given the degree of intelligence that frees us to understand and choose between right and wrong. Only humans can choose to follow Christ or reject him. Only humans have the capacity to sin. When my dog disobeys me, she’s not sinning. She’s simply not understanding the command. Dogs are trainable because they are delighted to obey their masters when they are taught well.
Heavenly eternity is life without limits, full immersion into the love of God. I believe that if we want our beloved pets to spend eternity with us, then God in his merciful goodness grants it to us.
© 2016 by Terry A. Modica
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