“…But Then Face to Face” – On the Death of Pets

“God made all things for his formal glory, which consists in the knowledge and love shown to Him by rational creatures. Irrational creatures cannot give formal glory directly to God, but they should assist rational creatures in doing so. This they can do by manifesting God’s perfections and by rendering other services; whilst rational creatures, by their own personal knowledge and love of God, refer and direct all creatures to Him as their last end. Therefore, every intelligent creature in general, and man in particular, is destined to know and love God for ever, though he may forfeit eternal happiness by sin.” – “Heaven,” Catholic Encyclopedia (1911)

The Church teaches that Man is “a living soul.” That designation does not, of course, mean that the rest of creation is dead by comparison. It means that Man, charged by God as the steward of His creation, was intended from the outset to be more alive. Created in the divine image and likeness and having the very breath of God – or, His holy Spirit – within our bodies, we enjoy the great gift of reason. We have the capacity and ability to know and think and judge in the way God does, after the pattern of God’s own cosmic rationality – His own Word – but within space and time. We can recognize God within creation and therefore see it for what it really is: the unfathomably bounteous expression of His glory. This gracious endowment culminated 2000 years ago in the Mystery of the Incarnation, when the Word Himself entered space and time to live and die as Man – and to rise again to show us the true glory of the divine within the human, “a living soul.”

As the Christian world celebrated that Resurrection on the Feast of Easter on April 20, this Wizard’s dear Hero said goodbye to one of his beloved dogs, 14-year-old Ginger. She was adopted about two years ago; her previous owners had brought her to be euthanized, but on examining the perfectly healthy dog the vet refused. So they left her. Why they did that I can only guess. Perhaps they simply did not understand what they had, or didn’t want to. Perhaps they understood too well, and either could not take care of her or could not bear to watch her decline. Perhaps some sad deficiency in mind or heart prevented them from giving her the attention and care she deserved. I simply do not know. What I do know is that her mission was not yet fulfilled. Her last two years were full of joy, and she gave as good as she got. She was part of my Hero’s family, and though her rapid decline and death was a nasty emotional blow, she showed the heart of God every day of her life.

I don’t know where the saying that “all dogs go to heaven” came from (besides the lovely animated film of that name). I do know that Mark Twain once quipped that if entry into heaven was won by merit and not by grace, then “you would stay out and your dog would go in.” But both variants of the saying reflect a wondrous truth about the relationship between man and the rest of creation, between the rational and the irrational. As I said, we define rational beings as those who can come to know God because their minds work in a way similar to His (they can also, in a great display of cosmic irony, freely reject all to do with the Maker of the awesome creation they contemplate and safeguard). An irrational being is, simply, one that cannot come to know what a rational being can, but as a part of creation–a manifestation of God’s glory and love–they can demonstrate and be examples to rational beings of those things that we are meant to recognize. In other words, creation interacts with us through them; we are the stewards of creation, and by virtue of their lively existence they show us the beauty of what it is we tend. They show us the heart of God.

So it is most especially with family pets. We can come to know and love God very intimately by taking care of these creatures who spend most of their days eating, sleeping, begging for attention and getting under our feet. They can become family for us in a truly magical way; they adopt us, and when we take care of them they can bring out a primal playfulness and joyfulness in us. And it’s in this beautiful relationship that we find the reason not to despair when it is time for them to leave us and return to the glory whence they came. In fact, their departure should be all the more an impetus for us to journey towards God more faithfully and resolutely than before. We should run to Him – just as our pets run to us! And on the day we see our Maker face to face, we will gaze into the depths of His eyes and feel those beloved pets stare right back at us. And we will know in the most complete of ways that everything they were – and are – has been Him all along.

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

Jesus Himself told His disciples that not a single sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s knowledge. The Father is in us all, even every sparrow that falls. The more you come to know and love God through time spent with His creation, especially these darling pets of ours, the better you can be assured of experiencing that joy again when you find them in the very presence of God Himself.

GingerAuthor’s Note: I had intended to post this about a month ago, shortly after Ginger’s death. But then life happened, as it tends to do, and I have just recently gotten the chance to finish the writing and editing. It seems, though, that all things happen precisely when they mean to, as finishing this post has helped me process the sudden departure of my baby boy Will, one of our family’s Maine coon cats who gave us all 11 wonderful years. I hope that, in light of such a great good, the delay may be forgiven.

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