Question: I am a veterinarian, and I have had some clients ask me about "doggie heaven" when their animals die or are euthanized. As I understand it, animals do not have souls like people and therefore do not go to heaven, but this is not a very satisfying answer for someone who has lost a beloved pet. Is there a more comforting answer that I can give them?
-- Randall Gallagher,Houston, Texas
Answer: You are inviting me into an area in which I trod in this column some years ago to the great chagrin of quite a number of Our Sunday Visitor readers. The question was whether there were cats in heaven. I answered: Why not! From the responses, you would think I had denied the Trinity or papal infallibility.
Some readers were appalled by the notion that heaven might be wall to wall with the fluffy souls of every cat who ever lived. As Martin Luther said, "Here I stand; I can do no other."
So, I affirm once again that it is not impossible that there are cats and dogs in heaven. Cats and dogs do not have eternal souls. If they are in heaven, they are there as cats and dogs.
Is there any biblical basis for my theological position? Well, listen to the following passage from the Book of Isaiah in which the prophet is describing the day of the Lord:
"Then the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child shall lay his hand on the adder's lair. There shall be no more harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea" (11:6-9).
Isaiah is here speaking of a transformed world when God's saving power will extend to all creation. While the prophet does not mention cats and dogs, I would surmise that they fit in there somewhere. The more fundamental question here is the extent to which all that God has created will be raised up in the new heavens and new earth that God is making.
The Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Church in the Modern World states that while we do not know all of the details about eternity, "we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, whose happiness will fill and surpass all the desires of peace arising in the hearts of men."
In the kingdom of God, "charity and its works will remain, and all of creation, which God made for man, will be set free from its bondage to decay" (No. 39).
Now, you probably don't want to quote Isaiah and Vatican II to your clients whose dogs have died, and I would avoid saying simply that dogs go to heaven (the Church has declared nothing on the subject), but you can say that we may indeed hope that all the good things we have loved in life will return in the great resurrection.
Question: I notice that you often use biblical quotations in your columns. From which Bible do you quote and why?
-- Marianne B., Fort Wayne, Ind.
Answer: I quote from The New American Bible for the simple reason that it is the one I used most in my theological studies and have marked up with usage over the years. The New American Bible is also the translation commissioned by the U.S. bishops and is the version used at Mass. That's not a very inspiring answer, but it works for me.
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion @osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.