Losing a pet can be difficult. My neighbor recently lost her pet kitten. Her eight-year-old daughter began crying inconsolably when she learned of this loss. She asked her mother what would happen to the kitten if she would go to heaven.
Many animal lovers wonder whether or not their furry friends will join them in heaven. They feel affection for their pets and are saddened when they die. They have come to naturally ask whether or not it is possible that heaven may be open to animals.
Respect for Creation
Pets can provide companionship to children and provide comfort to those who are sick, elderly or lonely. Many saints have had a special relationship with animals. They may have cared of one in need or may even have been helped by one. Their deep love for God inspired them to love all of creation. They recognized that each living creature has its own unique value in the eyes of God and reflects God’s wisdom and goodness.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the respect we should have for creation and the affection many saints have shown for animals. It states:
Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals. (CCC 2416)
At the same time, it also cautions us. It states, “One can love animals; [but] one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons” (CCC 2418).
St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology, is well known for his love for all of creation. He praised nature and recognized that all of nature also praised God their Creator who tenderly loves each and every one of his creatures. St. Francis is known to have tamed a wild wolf and then had the villagers of Gubbio promise to feed this hungry wolf. He preached to the birds, saying:
My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you… you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests.
His address to them was a commentary on Jesus’ invitation to trust in God’s loving care. He loves and cares for all his creatures (Luke 12:22-34).
Like St. Francis, St. Clare of Assisi also gave up a life of wealth to live a simple life of poverty and like him, she also had a deep passion for all of creation. She often spoke with various animals and nursed injured rabbits or birds back to health. She invited her sisters to look upon everything and everyone that surrounded them, every tree, human being, and creature. She asked them to recognize the uniqueness of each one and to realize that together they all participate in the gift of life.
St. Philip Neri, known as the Apostle of Rome, was a 16th-century saint who dedicated his life to serving God but is also remembered for his kindness to cats. He often journeyed through the streets of Rome with his pet red cat in a basket. He later gave his followers the responsibility of caring for her and insisted that they give him regular reports about her wellbeing as a way of teaching them humility.
St. John Bosco (1815-1888) was protected by a large gray dog that would mysteriously appear when he needed protection and assistance. He kept him from danger. The dog defended him from thieves and from those who threatened the saint because of his work with homeless youth.
Biblical Images of Heaven
Ultimately, death and life after death are a mystery. We are not given a clear picture of what heaven will look like. Many of the images used in the Bible are not meant to be understood literally. They are symbols, describing a reality that is beyond anything we could ever imagine.
Isaiah includes animals in his description of the new heavens and new earth. He describes it as a place where “the wolf and the lamb shall pasture together, and the lion shall eat hay like the ox” (Isaiah 65:25). St. Paul suggests that all of creation which shared in the punishment of corruption caused by sin will also share humanity’s future glory and freedom. It states:
For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:19-21).
Accounts of creation both open and end the Bible. Genesis, the first book of the Bible, begins with the story of God’s creation, with Adam and Eve living in a garden, the garden of Eden. God declares creation as “good” and views all of creation as holy. The Bible ends with the account of a new creation. The Book of Revelation describes God’s eternal kingdom in heaven using the images of a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1-22:5). It is not described as a garden but as a heavenly city in which God dwells among his people in peace and understanding. He is their light and will wipe every tear from their eyes. Like the image of the kingdom of God as a banquet, this image describes heaven as a community of sisters and brothers who live together with God, seeing them in God and God reflected in them.
Pope Francis states that we are all journeying towards the new Jerusalem, our eternal and common home in heaven. He reminds us of Jesus’ declaration, “I will make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Pope Francis describes the nature of heaven in Laudato Si’. He states:
Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all.
He also mentions that in the end, “the very flowers of the field and the birds which his human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with [the Lord’s] radiant presence.” The perfection of the kingdom of God will somehow transform and renew the rest of creation also.
Will There Be Animals in Heaven?
In the end, we do not have a definitive answer about whether or not there will be animals in heaven. It has not been clearly revealed to us. The teachings of the Church and the Bible both focus on teaching us what is necessary for our own salvation, on how we may be able to reach heaven. We are taught that heaven is a face-to-face encounter with God, an exchange of love between God and humans. Many people feel closer to God when they meditate on the beauty of nature, including the animals, and it is difficult for them to envision happiness without all of God’s creatures. God asks us to trust him. In the end, he will give us everything we will need to have true happiness and enjoy his goodness.