Q. I just lost my dog. I had her for 15 years and I miss her a lot. Will I see her again in heaven? Or is she gone forever? (Green Bay)
A. We live in an age with an increasing love for God’s creation. This manifests itself in various ways, from advocacy for environmental protection to care for abandoned animals. It should come as no surprise that the number of us with domesticated animals at home — usually dogs and cats — is on the rise. Many of us see God reflected in nature and the affection our pets give us.
This question above is an excellent one and requires a careful answer. I have often pondered this myself.
We first need to be clear about what we are asking. Do we mean pet dogs or cats, or do we mean insects, wolverines or the giant squid? They’re all animals — aren’t they? Perhaps a better thing to ask is, “Do all furry, cute things that do me no harm and which I have affection for go to heaven?”
Genesis tells us God created man and animals from the earth, but only to humans did he impart the breath of life — an immortal soul. An immortal soul differentiates us from the rest of creation. We have an intellect and a will; we can perceive things beyond the material world such as patriotism, love and hope. In short, animals do not discuss philosophy. They are animals and their behavior is fixed. Human beings, on the other hand, write articles in diocesan newspapers. This is powerful evidence of a spiritual reality beyond the physical senses in humans, which we call an immortal soul.
How can we answer this question? One way is to argue that since all created things — even animals — were made to help humans towards heaven, they are tools for our redemption. Once we are in heaven we will not need animals or any other worldly things to help us, so animals would not need to be in heaven. It is important to note that God gave human beings dominion over animals to use them responsibly for our own good. A crucial point is that the earth was created for us — not us for the earth. This distinction is often confused. Only human beings are created in God’s image and likeness. Thus it would seem illogical and out of place for an animal to be in heaven.
Another way to approach this refers to the Book of Revelation which states that, at the world’s end, there will be “a new heaven and a new earth.” St. Paul also speaks of “the whole of creation awaiting redemption.” If original sin affected all creation, then the establishment of the Kingdom of God in its fullness, at the end of time, might afford a place even for animals. So it is not out of place to hope that, in a way known only to God, our animal friends might have a place in the world to come. Because they lack immortal souls, they would not be able to enjoy heaven in the way we would. However, because of Christ’s Resurrection, we can hope that all things will come to life again, each in its own way.
I’m inclined to believe we will see our animal friends again. But even if we do not, seeing God face to face in heaven will be enough!
Fr. Girotti serves as vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Green Bay,
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