|Midnight Thunder Schaetzel|
in February of 1999
Here is the problem. The Christian faith clearly teaches that heaven is for people not animals. There is a reason for this, and the Catholic Church very specifically points out the relation between humans and animals in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2415-2418. It is the last paragraph of this teaching that is the most difficult for children to digest: "It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons." As an animal lover myself, I do confess to having difficulty with this as well. When one brings a pet into one's home, there is nothing wrong with this. However, it is easy to forget that the animal is an animal, and start attributing human characteristics and personality to it. Such is the nature of a sensitive person I suppose. We should understand that our capacity to love animals comes from God, and that the favour we show to them is a divine trait. In this sense, the animals literally see the presence of God working through us, which is why it is so very important that we don't distort this image of God by being cruel to them. Animals are God's creation. They are his property. He made them, so ultimately they belong to him, and I do believe God will hold us accountable for distorting his image, even to the animals.
|Midnight was a black-lab and greyhound mix breed, which|
gave him his lean body and incredible speed.
Animals are not people. They are not human beings. They do not have immortal souls. Their souls come from the earth. They are a product of this world. So when they die, their souls return to the earth. In other words, they are extinguished and recycled as something else. No, I'm not talking about reincarnation here. I'm talking about recycling. Just as the body of a beast is broken down and the minerals reused as something else, so the soul of the beast is the same. It follows the pattern of the body, because it is totally 100% of this world.
Human beings are different. We are neither angels nor animals. An angel is 100% spirit, having no part in this world. It can interact with this world, but it is not part of this world. Animals are 100% material, having no part of heaven. They can interact with heavenly things, such as people and angels, but they have no part in the other world. Human beings are different. We are a "hybrid species" so to speak. We have interaction with both. Our bodies, like animal bodies, clearly come from this world. Our souls however come from God. They are heavenly in origin. God first introduced heavenly souls to earthly bodies when he created the first man and woman. The Scriptures tell us that God himself "breathed" life into their bodies. The Hebrew word for "breath" is ru-akh, which also means "spirit." So unlike the animals, God imparted to us a heavenly spirit, and in doing so he gave us the capacity for three things...
- Eternal life: the heavenly soul cannot be extinguished. Once it is created, it will live forever, either with the presence and joy of God, or without it, but it will live forever.
- Communion with God: the heavenly soul seeks reunion with the divine. Unlike the animals, it will worship that which the body cannot see.
- Discipline of the body: the heavenly soul can command, control and discipline the earthly body, because it is by nature superior to the earthly body. This is why human beings can do things that animals cannot. It's more than just brain-power, vocal chords and opposable thumbs. These things alone would not have put us where we are. What makes it all work is the ability of our heavenly souls to take command of them, discipline them, and force them to do things that by nature and instinct they would rather not do. Animals can't do this. To be trained, they require a human being (a creature of a higher order) to handle the discipline for them.
|In his youth, Midnight loved to run, and could easily leap|
as high as four feet into the air at full stride.
Dogs and cats (especially dogs) can give us a sense of what we believe to be unconditional love. It's not really unconditional love, in the same way humans give it, but it is a form of love nonetheless, that has a strong similarity to human unconditional love. We have to remember that dogs are by nature pack animals, so it is only natural for them to behave this way. It's instinctive. They're literally programmed to do it. Give a dog some food and a pat on the head and he'll be your friend for life. We have to remember, the dog didn't really choose us to be his friend. He was pre-programmed to befriend anyone who feeds him and shows him affection. That's a pack animal for you. This is where it gets hard for humans (especially children) to distinguish between human love and animal love. Human love is always, to some degree, a choice. While animal love is always just a response and only a response. They love us only because we loved them first and for no other reason than that.
The hardest thing I ever did was put Midnight down. I can only say it "hollowed me out" inside. I felt like somebody took a pipe cleaner to my heart and reamed the whole thing out. That's the only way to describe it. It was an awful experience both for me and for him. I walked away from it a broken shell. It needed to be done. The dog was dying a slow and torturous death from congestive heart failure. The alternative would have been to let his lungs fill up with fluid and watch him slowly drown. The only merciful thing to do was hasten the process. Unlike humans, animals can be euthanised without incurring the penalty of murder. The Scriptures tell us that God delivered the lives of animals into human hands, so he gave us power to end their lives for whatever reasons we deem best. Not so with humans; only God can end the life of a human, because a human possesses a heavenly soul. With animals however, it is okay to euthanise them, and many pet owners choose to, rather than watch their pet die a slow and painful death. For me, the death of my pet dog had a very paradoxical symbolism. Midnight was put down at midnight on Easter morning of 2012. I swear that was unplanned. It's just the way it worked out. Again, all I can say is it was painful, and I haven't been able to speak of it publicly until now.
|This was a happy dog, but make no mistake, it was our|
love and care that made him happy. Without us things
would have been very different for him.
These are very big concepts even for adults to handle. So how do we explain this to our children? Catholic bishops and priests are bound to tell the truth, and so when they do, it almost seems heartless to the parent who has to handle the spin control when the child comes home from catechism class. Most Christian parents simply don't know what to say, and so they sacrifice doctrinal truth to satisfy the tears of a hurting child. Who can blame them really? The death of a pet is hard enough even for an adult, let alone a child. Why add insult to injury by telling them there is no place in heaven for doggies? Ouch!
So I'll simply tell you how I handled it with my own children, and let you decide for yourself what is best for your own family. I am one for doctrinal orthodoxy. I don't want to create theological problems for my children later in life, and I only want to teach them the truth. That truth would of course include the differences between humans and animals. So this is how I handled it in what I believe to be a doctrinally orthodox, yet compassionate way.
Okay, I know this is a punt, but I have no shame in doing it. God is a big God and he can handle it. I know that when we reach the glory of heaven, our will is completely conformed into the image of God's will. Therefore, we will not desire to ask him for anything that he doesn't want. On the other hand, if my children still desire to ask God for Midnight back when they get to heaven, then I know that can only be God's will, and therefore, if it is his will, then he will somehow re-create Midnight for their pleasure and mine. That being said, as an adult, I am now able to recognise that this is unlikely, simply because I know that our entry into heaven will be nothing short of a transformation for us. We will be so filled with the joy and satisfaction of being in the presence of God, that such things as pets will likely be nothing but a distant memory of an obsolete and bygone era. Nevertheless, if there is a remote chance that our memory of our pets is somehow part of God's plan, then who am I to say it's impossible? If God wills it, then nothing is impossible. The only thing is, we won't know the answer to that until we get there. That is a mystery adults can handle. Children, on the other hand, might require a more delicate approach. For them, it may be enough to simply tell them they can ask for their pets back when they get to heaven, and just leave it at that. I've found that my own kids seem to be relatively satisfied with that answer. While I, as a parent, know that I haven't told them anything that directly contradicts religious truth.
So if it's God's will that I want Midnight back in heaven, then I know I will want him, and I'll get him back just as soon as I ask God to recreate him in heaven. If it's not God's will, then I know my will is to be conformed to his, and it won't bother me in the least. Either way, that dog was a good dog and he gave me years of happiness. He gave my wife and children years of happiness too. In that, he served his purpose, and in that I know that God is well pleased.
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