I have been struggling lately with the prospect of putting one of our cats to sleep. She is a loving and sweet soul and I've been putting it off for months now. She looks up at me with her big, trusting eyes and I just haven't been able to muster whatever it takes to take her life. But it seems inevitable because of her condition, even though she seems relatively happy. I've been thinking a lot about animals and their souls... because I think they are just as special as we are - just in different ways. I found an article that made me smile, and here it is:
DO ANIMALS HAVE SOULS?
by Dr. Aurelia Louise Jones
This is a very controversial subject and I leave it up to you to decide. Many believe everything in the universe is consciousness and life. St. Francis of Assisi in his time knew this to be true. He stated it openly, endured criticism and was ridiculed for it. It took the papacy 2000 years to state it publicly after years of studies and research. In January 1990, Pope John Paul II issued a proclamation declaring that animals have souls.The Tibetans have believed this for centuries. All is evolving. Knowing this, isn't it sad to observe the kind of experiences that many people are offering to the animal kingdom?
Although saints making friends with animals is one of the most tender chapters in the history of Christianity, it is not one that is well remembered. For St. Francis of Assisi, like his Master Jesus, so loved the world that the smallest inhabitant was to him considered sacred and treated with reverence. Because all living things are an expression of God, to St. Francis, they were considered sacred and to be cared for. To this day people look to St. Francis as not only a saint who communicated with animals, but as a messenger demonstrating this kind of love embracing everyone and everything in the world.
There is a story that on the evening of his death, a cloud of larks, grieving for him, wheeled over his house and sang their farewells. The larks, like the other animals of that time, were losing a great friend. He felt so strongly for the mistreated animals of his day, for the whipped horses, captured birds and hungry dogs, that he went to the authorities, governors, and finally the emperor, pleading for a law protecting them from abuse. He asked for hostels where strays could be housed and fed and he raged over the caging of the larks.
Image source: from Catholic Greetings.org, illustration by John August Swanson
Although the best-known saint who cared or animals, Francis was not the only one. Gerasimus the Abbot bound up the wounds of a lion he found near the river Jordan with a thorn in his paw. Walaricus fed the birds that came to eat while he admonished intruding visitors, "Do let these innocents eat in peace."
One of St. Francis's biographers asserts that one day he was in the town of Alviano, preparing to preach to the townspeople. It was late afternoon, a time when hundreds of swallows circled over the square, which resounded with their unceasing twitter. As the crowd waited in the tense silence for the sermon to begin, the swallows kept coming in ever greater numbers, circling closer and closer and filling the square with their voices so that nothing else could be heard. The saint waited for awhile, watching the swallows. Finally, he turned to them and said in his soft voice: 'My brothers and sisters, the swallows, it is now time for me to speak. You have been speaking enough at this time.' And immediately, the swallows were silent. They settled down, lowered their heads in respectful worship and listened silently to the sermon as did the people below in the square. When Francis had finished and the people sang a song of jubilation and praise, the swallows, too, joined in the voices of joy. The inhabitants of Alviano, witnessing this extraordinary occurrence, exclaimed: 'A miracle! A miracle!"
The saint lived his love for all God's creatures big and small. His reverence for all life is an inspiration for all of us to follow.
Check the scriptures. Start with the stories of the creation since that is where we read most accounts of animals being created. NEPHESH CHAYA is the word phrase in Hebrew most often translated to mean "soul". In the King James Version, in Genesis 2.7, we read that the human was created "a living soul" literally, NEPHESH CHAYA.
In Genesis 1.21, "So God created the great sea monsters and every NEPHESH CHAYA that moves, of every kind." Apparently, fish and birds have souls.
"And God said, 'Let the earth bring forth NEPHESH CHAYA of every kind: Cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind. And it was so." (Genesis 1.24) Apparently, animals do have souls.
But do they go to heaven?
So says scripture. Horses are regularly pictured as being part of heaven (2 Kings 2.11; Revelation 6). And there is a list of creatures who are like oxen, lions, and eagles seen by John in heaven gathered around the throne of God (Rev. 4.7) These animals are shown as a part of heaven's realm, so it seems likely, since they have souls, that heaven is also the eternal home for those animals that have been an important part of creation from the beginning.
As much as I miss my beloved pets, somehow, I am made to feel good about their passing.
I am not a Christian, but I like hearing of animal proponents and "defenders" - no matter where they come from. And, as I am learning more about Christianity, this much rings true to me.
"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow man."
- St. Francis de Assisi