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Friar’s E-Spirations: Do Our Pets Go To Heaven?

No doubt many of you would love to know the answer to the question asked at the top of this E-spiration. I’m pleased to inform you that I have just written a new book on this subject. The book (published in late April 2009 by Paraclete Press) is entitled Will I See My Dog in Heaven?

The whole project began more than five years ago when I wrote an article for St. Anthony Messenger magazine (July 2003) with a similar title: “Will I See My Little Doggy in Heaven?” In that article, I set forth 10 reasons why I believed the whole family of creation is somehow included in God’s plan of salvation. I believed already at that time that I had presented a good bit of evidence from Scripture, from Christian teaching and tradition and from the example of St. Francis of Assisi that “God wishes other creatures besides humans to be included in the plan of salvation.”

The article stirred up a larger than usual number of letters to the editor. In a later issue of St. Anthony Messenger (September 2003), we printed six letters “From Our Readers.” Here are two of these letters, presented in slightly condensed form:

[Dear editors:] Happy days are here again for this 69-year-old who happens to be a lifelong lover of cats! After reading Father Jack Wintz’s article, “Will I See My Little Doggy in Heaven?” I feel for the first time real hope for all those cats I’ve lost to incurable illness and old age over the years, and for countless numbers of abused, abandoned and suffering animals the world over. That article made my day! [From Doris in Hyattsville, MD]

[Dear editors:] I was thoroughly shocked that the editors of a supposed Catholic magazine would publish “Will I See My Little Doggy in Heaven?” I was taught that only human beings had immortal souls and free will, and, therefore, were able to earn either heaven or hell. When did that change? How do dogs and other animals know what is right or wrong? Will pit bull dogs trained to kill go to hell for doing what they were trained to do? [From Clayton in Santa Clarita, CA]
In time, the St. Anthony Messenger article caught the notice of the editors of Paraclete Press, who asked me to write a book for them on this subject.

Why I Wrote the Book

Many people have pets. And most of them have come to love their pets. It is a great concern for many of them whether they will see these pets again after they die. This is true, of course, for adults as well as for children. I pray that this book will bring a measure of comfort and understanding to those grieving their pets.

Much of my motivation for writing the book also flows from my being a Franciscan friar for more than 50 years. I have a great admiration for St. Francis of Assisi, especially for his great love and respect for animals—as well as for trees, rivers, wild flowers and creation as a whole. St Francis wrote a famous poem known as the Canticle of the Creatures, in which he invites “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon,” “Brother Wind” and “Sister Water,” “Brother Fire” and “Sister Mother Earth” to join him in praising God for all the beautiful creatures God has made.

One Family of Creation

For years, I pondered the question, “Why did Francis do all of this?” What special intuition caused Francis to address creatures as “brother” or “sister?” At some point I arrived at the conviction, which I’ve never abandoned, that somewhere along the way it dawned on St. Francis that all creatures (whether human or nonhuman) belong to one family of creation. “Brother” and “sister” are familiar terms, after all, which suggests that all creatures are part of one family. Will I See My Dog in Heaven? grew out of that conviction. I believe the book’s subtitle, God’s Saving Love for the Whole Family of Creation, summarizes well the central theme of the book.

What Do Christians Believe?

It is my experience that Christians are not always of one mind when it comes to animals in heaven. Some Christians believe that nonhuman creatures have no place in heaven. Their reasoning goes something like this: Life with God after death is only possible for human beings who have received baptism in one form or another. Moreover, only humans have intelligence and free will and thus the capacity to enjoy fullness of life in heaven.

My short response to this line of thinking is this: Consider the story of Adam and Eve before their disobedience as well as the story of the animals, the birds, the trees and plants in the Garden of Eden. Not only Adam and Eve, but the other creatures as well seemed to find peace and happiness in that first paradise. Why then would God—or anyone else—want to exclude them from the paradise that is yet to come? Thus, I would have no argument with Christians who believe that the animals and other creatures are with God in heaven, just as they were in God’s presence in the story of the original paradise.

In fact, the more I studied the Bible, our Judeo-Christian tradition and the life of St. Francis, the more hints and evidence I found that other creatures besides humans are called to participate in God’s plan of salvation. It’s true that we know very little in detail about the kind of life we are destined to spend with God in heaven or how animals and other creatures will be included in the picture. In the 10 chapters of my book, however, I think you will find much good evidence from Scripture, Catholic teaching and other sources showing that God desires the whole family of creation—both humans and animals—to be saved and to live happily with God in the life to come.

To provide you with just one sample of such evidence from sacred Scripture, think of the story of Noah and the Ark. There we discover that God wishes to save not only Noah’s family from the great flood but all the animals as well. And after the floodwaters dried up, God made a solemn covenant not only with Noah and his clan but with all the animals and other creatures that “Never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood” (Gn 9:10-11). The story strongly hints that it is not God’s plan to save humankind apart from the other creatures. He wants to save the other creatures as well. We are all in the same boat, so to speak. Isn’t it curious that God’s saving perspective is often much broader than our own?

I hope to share more about the question of animals in heaven in future columns of Friar Jack’s E-spirations.

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Because St. Anthony Messenger Press has become a distributor of Friar Jack’s new book for Paraclete Press, we are happy to tell you about our special offer regarding Will I See My Dog in Heaven? By purchasing the 144-page book from St. Anthony Messenger Press, you will receive a copy of the book personally autographed by Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M., at the discounted price of $11.99, as opposed to the list price of $14.95.

Dear Friar Jim: I have recently become aware that work is holy. I put my whole self into my commitment to do the best job that I can possibly do each and every day. I often have to mentally remove myself from extremely adverse working conditions by going to God in prayer, asking him to help me through, and he always does. Barbara

A: Dear Barbara: Your thoughts are just perfect. Your growth in holiness is living out the circumstances of your life as best you can, seeking to please the Lord. Friar Jim

Dear Friar Jim: Sometimes your articles just hit me straight on and at the right time! Your article on holiness is, for me, so timely. It lifted me up and made me remember that even when things seem dull and routine, there is holiness to be found. Thank you for reminding me! Kathryn

A: Dear Kathryn: You expressed it perfectly. Holiness can be found within the dullest most boring life ever. It’s the heart seeking God’s will that says it all. Friar Jim

Dear Friar Jim: This message, arriving at this moment, is truly a miracle! I’ve been dealing for a while with an inordinate amount of paperwork, dull, mind- numbing, and I have felt thankless, unrecognized and meaningless. I’d managed to get into an “oh, poor me” mode and I was making myself and my husband unhappy with the whole thing. Then I read your wonderful message and realized that this is really God’s work! That it is given to me to do well and cheerfully, and as such is full of meaning beyond itself, and that when I do it well, it is also my gift back to God. What a glorious day it is! Elizabeth

A: Dear Elizabeth: You said it exactly right! It’s so simple when you think about it, though often the execution of those simple but boring tasks is daunting. I often think of how humdrum the life of Mary must have been doing what all mothers and wives did in Nazareth day after day. There was no Kroger’s or fast food. Every day meant scraping enough food for her family. Her sinlessness did not make her life less boring or trying, though sometimes we think she just sailed though it. Not so. God bless you. Friar Jim