Friday, October 31, 2003

All Souls Day: Do Animals Go To Heaven?

Yesterday afternoon I went to visit my parish elementary school. As Sunday is All Souls Day, and since it only falls on a Sunday every seven years or so, I decided to make that the subject of my talks with the fourth and fifth graders.

So, after talking a little about All Souls Day itself, I talked to them about Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, and how we might end up in one of those places. All this talk of the Last Things led inevitably to the question in every child's mind: "Do Dogs and Cats (and, in one case, birds) go to heaven?" Fortunately I was not asked about hamsters, goldfish, lizards or turtles.

After a moment's consideration, I took a deep breath and plunged in: I said, "Well, I know you've probably heard that they do, and I'm sure you really want them to, but dogs and cats, and other animals, don't go to heaven when they die. Now that doesn't mean they go to hell, either," I added. "When they die, they just die, and they're gone."

The kids were universally skeptical about my assertion. They weren't buying it, not one bit. One girl asked, "Why not?" I explained that animals didn't have souls like people do. "Animals aren't like people," I said. "Animals don't think like we do, they don't make choices like we do. They don't," I concluded, "love like we do." One boy immediately objected "my dog loves me, I know he does." I replied, "I'm sure he does, in a way. But your dog doesn't love you like your mother does, does he?" The boy reluctantly conceded my point.

Another girl said, "I think animals will go to heaven, because God made everything alive to give Him honor and glory, and because of that everything that's alive will go to heaven." I had to admit she had made a good point. She'll probably grow up to be a theologian someday. If she were a boy she'd have probably ended up a Jesuit. But then I came up with a good retort: "Well, I don't think everything alive will go to heaven. After all, bacteria are alive, and I'm pretty sure there won't be any bacteria in heaven."

Finally, another girl said, "I know my cat is going to go to heaven because I love her very much." At that, I threw in the towel. How can I possibly argue with a child's love? So I said, "well, if you love your cat that much, maybe, just maybe, she might be able to go to heaven."