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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

St. Rock and His Dog

Readers have pointed out to me that I mention St. Rock and his dog all the time. To be honest that's because the story of St. Rock and his dog is the perfect metaphor for the oft asked question: Does Lassie get to go to heaven?

Now before I give you that answer, which is a flat out, "NO," I feel compelled to mention that some very great thinkers disagree with me. I know this because I often hang around at the Catholic Online Forums, in particularly one called "The Lion's Den." This is a place where some very brilliant but somewhat humorless people debate questions of political, social and theological importance in great depth. They are highly intelligent smarty pantses all. To my great surprise, there was a big argument going on there one day about animals in heaven and there were actually some people arguing that, since to them it wouldn't BE heaven without animals in it, animals must be there. They posited this theory without a shred of irony.

The premise was that since God can do whatever He likes with heaven, he could fill it with animals of all kinds, including your childhood companion, now unmashed from his foray across the highway. These people could not be swayed.

In the interest of full disclosure, nowhere in the Catechism of the Catholic Church does it state that "animals do not go to heaven".

Also in the interest of full disclosure, I was taught by every nun and priest I ever had as a teacher that animals do NOT go to heaven. At age seven, I thought that was very sad. But even at age seven I accepted the news because I was a tough bird even as a child and because I understood the difference between people and animals.

People have immortal souls. Animals do not. Hence there is no soul to go to heaven. Need further proof? We don't baptize the rottweiler "just in case."

The argument back in the ironically named "Lions' Den" was that God would put animals in heaven to make nature lovers happy, since heaven is a happy place. Clearly, God likes animals. He sure made a lot of them. My rejoinder is that, without an immortal soul, the animals in heaven would have to be some sort of virtual animals, not animals who had lived on earth. God could do that without a laser machine to generate holograms, the people who work at Pixar, or even Photoshop. Or, I guess He could just make some new animals to make a mess in heaven and chew on things. If they were just a bunch of animal copies, which they'd have to be, they'd be sort of depressing, don't you think? So animals wouldn't go to heaven, but there would be animals in heaven, which defeats the whole purpose, I think, of hoping that animals go to heaven.

Which brings me to the story of St. Rock (aka Roch, Rocko, Roche), that patron saint of dogs and dog lovers. Anyone could have guessed that Rock would end up a saint because he was born with a cross-shaped birthmark on his chest. Rock was a nobleman, born to a wealthy family, but he went off to work helping plague victims. He managed to do that for a long time until he finally became ill himself. Being saintly and not wanting to trouble anyone, Rock crawled off to a cave to die.

But every day a dog showed up with food for St. Rock and licked his plague sores. That's always pictured right on his holy card. (A dog's tongue is hundreds of times more germ free than that of a human, which is why your dog, Rollo, can eat garbage with a relaxed smile.) St. Rock survived.

St. Rock was eventually thrown into prison. He could have gotten out of prison, because he could easily have proved he was a nobleman, what with his famous birthmark and all (they didn't have fingerprints and DNA and the like back then). But, of course, being a saint and possessing heroic virtue, he stayed and helped the other prisoners. St. Rock died in prison.

So, St. Rock arrived in heaven, looked around and said, "Where's my dog?"

God said, "There are no dogs in heaven."

And St. Rock said, "Then I'm not going."

So God said, "Oh, alright, you can have your dog."

And that's how St. Rock's dog got to heaven.

This was my very favorite saint story when I was a little girl.

Clearly, this story is made up. Not the first part about St. Rock's heroic virtue. But obviously someone made up the dog in heaven part for people who just can't let go of the idea that, in heaven, you won't need a dog to lower your blood pressure or keep you company or make sure you're walking enough. You'll be one with God in ecstasy and adoration, not knitting fancy socks while the cat bats at the yarn.

The story is a perfect metaphor, the truth about a saint, a ray of hope for the innocent and simple minded. Recalling the story is the perfect answer to, "Does Lassie get to go to heaven?"
The answer, "You can pretend she does and we don't really mind, you poor thing."

God won't be mad if you go to your grave hoping to see Fluffy sitting on God's lap covering God in cat hair. He understands that once you're with Him you'll be glad not to clean the cat box.


Unknown said...

You are really on a roll with your recent posts, Sister! Kudos!

On another note, I was taught by SSIHM in Michigan many, many moons ago. Is that your order? The habit in the photo looks like what I remember. Is that really you? Do you know Sister Mary Assunta?

Anonymous said...

well, if people are arguing that just because God made a lot of animals he loves them and wants them in heaven, think how many cockroaches will be there!

Shig said...

Good point about the cockroaches. Just to be the Devil's Advocate, since there was no canine Adam & Eve, would dogs, or any other animal, need baptism to save their immortal soul?

Anonymous said...

a relevant link for those who remain hopeful on the question:


Sister Mary Martha said...

A relevant link for those who want an answer that makes some sense:

stilettoheights said...

I'm not going to fight you on this but I am curious as to how you know animals don't have immortal souls???

Anonymous said...

The best answer I ever heard a priest give to this question was "If you get to heaven and you want your pet, it will be there." But of course, if we get to heaven we WON'T want our pets. What is Fluffy or Spot compared with the Beatific Vision?

Anonymous said...

I know my horse will be there.

paramedicgirl said...

I remember having this go round with a bunch of "If my pet isn't in heaven, then I ain't going either" lovers over at Catholic Answers a few years ago. They seem to think that they will have the same attachment in heaven to their pets that is due to God. There's no reasoning with them.

I bet it's a sure thing that there won't be any pets in hell, either, so I don't think that alternative is going to work out for them, either.

Sir Galen of Bristol said...

Hey, if I gotta spend eternity in close proximity worshiping the Almighty, then I want someone or something there giving me my share of the worship: my dog.

No, seriously, this is the best answer to this question, I've seen yet.

PraiseDivineMercy said...

I'm okay with "no animals in heaven" but what about after the second coming when a new heaven and earth is created?

june cleaver said...

SMM, I was always taught that my dogs (or any other animal for that matter) would not be joining me in heaven because they do not have a soul-like you I accepted this and went on with my life.

Yesterday my husband accidentally killed two of the fish in our koy pond. He was beside himself with grief (makes me wonder just how broken up he will be when I kick the bucket).

My husband was raised Christian but was never taught the whole "no soul" thing as a child. Now that he is Catholic, he wants everyone to be as happy as he is... apparently even the poor fish he killed.

Maybe in heaven God will put him in charge of the big koy pond with a pretty waterfall. I am willing to bet there won't be any earthly fish in there though.

Anonymous said...

The meek shall inherit the earth. The animals will stay here and we can come visit them and the meek.

ali mata said...

"You can pretend she does and we don't really mind, you poor thing."

there you go again, making me laugh out loud at work. If I get fired for being crazy its your fault! ha! I should stop reading your blog, at least during work!

RobKPhD said...

yes, yes - and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?!?

Ha! I find it ludicrous to worry about animals in heaven when there is so much to do to actually get there.

I hope that I am in heaven. There seems plenty there for me to be concerned over. And after that, I can do what I can to help other people be there.

Anonymous said...

My concern when I get to heaven isn't about any pet - it's about my husbands. My late one and my current one - geesh. I hope they don't fight over me!

By the way, my son's name is Roc. And he was actually born with a little brown spot on his chest --- and if you STRAIN your eyes, it can even look like a chunky looking cross.

And he's going to be the first Canadian American French Pole as Pope we think.


Anonymous said...

Two things, who is the patron saint of learning disabilities? And does anybody else think it odd Princess Diana and Mother Theresa died at about the same time?

M Patrick said...

Interesting that we, as Catholics, say things like, when we get to heaven, but completely leave out the fact that there is a Purgatory to deal with. So my question is will my dog meet me in Purgatory?

Anonymous said...

No dogs in Heaven, nor in Purgatory, since they're not really "places" as much as "states" (as the Holy Father recently reiterated).

BUT there WILL eventually be a genuine resurrection of our bodies and a renewed earth for our actual physical resurrected bodies to dwell, ie a real "Place". There's no reason why all the good Fido's and Cleo's wouldn't be there to walk with us in God's company in the New Paradise.

Anonymous said...
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Michele said...

i love your blog!!!! i also like your humour sister:)

Mags said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mags said...

Sister Mary.
I love your blog, and your brilliant humour. I have been awarded a "Nice Matters Award" and am able to pass it on to 7 other bloggers, so I decided it would be nice to pass it on to you.
I believe you just need to copy and paste the award onto your blog, and then pass it on to some other Nice Matters bloggers.
Many blessings Sister.

seeking_something said...

It seems to me that animals have souls. However, they are not under the same rules as for humans. That is, they are neither able nor required to choose Heaven. How was it proven that animals don't have souls? However, bottom line is that ALL that matters in heaven is GOD.

Arkanabar Ilarsadin said...

"If my pet isn't in heaven, then I ain't going either"

Oh, dear. Would this count as idolatry -- considering your pet to be more important than God?

Anonymous said...

Animals have souls, just like trees and other living creatures. They just don't have immortal souls.

I remember Sister Agnes Edwina (if I recall correctly) talking to us about animals not going to Heaven. Christ didn't die to save them, she said. But on a happier note, she pointed out that our dogs and cats were incapable of sinning. ;)

Anonymous said...

If God can raise up children of abraham from 'these very rocks' surely he can, when the new heavens and earth are created... stock it with a few ressurected critters we knew and loved. I'd not put it past himl.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry for you. I now remember why I gave up Catholicism.DOOM AND GLOOM, subjugation by intimidation and threats from a loving GOD. I didn't give up on GOD just the Catholic religion

Anonymous said...

The Bible says that, "Gpd saves Man and Animal alike". My minister says that dogs DO go to Heaven.

Anonymous said...

Well Sister, as with so many nuns of my acquaintance over 50 years, your piety is admirable and your theology more than a little fuzzy. Of course you can see your dog in heaven--not a hologram, not a phony reproduction, but your own pet that you loved in life. God created that dog, and He can allow him into heaven if that will help to fulfill the ecstatic experience of the soul. There are so many reasons why you're wrong, I won't go into them here. But Msgr. Ronald Knox thought dogs go to heaven (not on their own merits, of course, but as fulfillment of the heavenly experience of a soul) and Ronnie Knox was a better theologian than you are.

Anonymous said...

The Book of Revelation says that we "saints" will be returning to earth, with the Lord Jesus, to reign with Him during the Millenium. We'll ALL be riding on white horses!! So . . . if we know that there are horses in heaven, we must reason that dogs and cats are hanging around the stables. Personally, I'm looking forward to not only seeing my beloved pets, but also rolling around with lions and tigers. There are SO many scriptures that mention God's love for his animals . . . I can't believe there are folks who think He wouldn't have them in eternity for us to enjoy also. It's not like He doesn't have enough room out there among the millions of galaxies! Of course, the first face I long to see is that of Jesus, but I have no doubt that our beloved animals will be with us too.

Dennis said...

I'm sorry, guys... but animals hove both Souls AND Spirits. It's a no-brainer to find this in the Bible (but, oh, yeh, you Catholics don't READ the bible). As far as "salvation" goes, animals don't NEED it. THEY NEVER SINNED. They just got caught in the wake of Adams sin. Look, it's real simple: Animals have spirits, spirits are eternal. Anybody who is trying to tell you otherwise is just trying hard to find some way to "prove" that Man is higher than the animals, and the only criteria they can come up with is to say "Man has a soul, therefore animals must not"

Dennis said...

nephesh: Hebrew, "soul"
psuche: Greek, "soul"

"And God created great whales, and every living creature (nephesh, psuche) that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good" (Gen. 1:21).

ruach: Hebrew, "spirit"
neshamah: Hebrew, "spirit"
pneuma: Greek, "spirit"
pnoe: Greek, "spirit"

"And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath (ruach, pneuma) of life" (Gen. 7:15).

"All in whose nostrils was the breath (neshamah, pnoe) of life, of all that was in the dry land, died" (Gen. 7:22).

"So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. . . . Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath (ruach, pneuma), they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit (ruach, pneuma), they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth" (Ps. 104:25, 29, 30).

"For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath (ruach, pneuma); so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit (ruach, pneuma) of man that goeth upward, and the spirit (ruach, pneuma) of the beast that goeth downward to the earth" (Eccl. 3:19-21).

Anonymous said...

why bother about animalas in heavan? why asks for dogs and other pets to be our companions in heaven if we seeks for companion, God is already in heaven... why look for other things. It is only God that our hearts long to be with and not animals....

Anonymous said...

WOW! I was searching for inspiration, with the hope of one day being able to wholeheartedly embrace Catholicism. I read this article and was completly turned off. It is self-righteous and egotistic to believe you know first hand that animals are exempt from the Kingdom of Heaven and to believe you are so much better than every other living creature on this earth, that they are doomed to live only this life and YOU will live forever. People want their pets to join them in Heaven because they love them, not because they are "simple minded" (as you say). Do you not wish to meet up with your parents, or siblings, or friends in the afterlife? We want our pets to be there because not only do we love the people in our lives, we love the animals too.

Anonymous said...

You seem pretty sure of yourself even though you have never visited Heaven, or even seen the vacation video of it, and are just relying on the writings of a bunch of dead guys who also never saw Heaven. But you also have never seen God, not even on YouTube, but you are still devoting your entire life to this mythical being.

So if you can do that, who is to say that I can't expect to meet all my pets in heaven? I know that they for sure will have earned their way there.

Anonymous said...

If God does not want animals in heaven, why would he have created them? If he did not want animals in heaven, then why was Noah asked to get the animals on his ark? Animals are important. God loves everyone...even the sinners who have turned away from him. He cannot abandon anyone.

Anonymous said...

Jesus died to redeem all of creation, not just man. Do not underestimate the power of this sacrifice.

Anonymous said...

Your blatant assumptions are heartbreaking, Sister...
God in his infinite wisdom created every living thing and Jesus died for all of creation, not just humans... God cares for the whole of his work, not just us, especially for the ultimate innocents like animals, who do not have the capacity to do evil for selfish purposes.
Reading your post has made my heart shrink in pain and brought tears to my eyes. I will pray to God to take these horrible thoughts from your post out of my mind.

Anonymous said...

They are there, I believe it. Love is not sappy or stupid, Love is more
essential to salvation than wisdom, theology, prophecy, and even more
essential than FAITH itself.
1 Corinthians said so.

Concerning the Rainbow Bridge, I like to see it reflected in God's covenant with Noah and All Living Creatures, which took the form of a Rainbow.

Pets in Heaven is more scriptual than pets not in heaven.
For those who only respect Catholic views on this, check for books by
Jack Wintz OFM, and Susi Pittman.

Of course, there will always be those whom will wait for the Pope to officially dogmatize pets/animals in heaven (no pun intended).. which cannot happen for many reasons.
Remember, animals did not eat of the Forbidden Fruit. Their state as fallen beings is only because Man was given dominion over them, Original Sin extends to them
from the transgression of Adam and Eve. Before that, they did not kill, did not eat flesh. Isaiah says they will be "there", so does the Apocalypse of John, and other
scriptures. Jesus said "Ask and you will receive".. there is nothing wrong in asking for something (your loving pet) which is Good. Animals were ordained by God as "Good". Yes, we are worth "so many sparrows", but not one sparrow falls to the ground without the Father knowing, and making a place for it.
There is nothing wrong with believing and thinking with your heart. God wants us
to do that. Thinking as a little child thinks is what helps us to Heaven, according to His Own Words.
If you took a poll of little children who just lost their loving pet, I'd say 100% would
desire to see that pet again in Heaven WITH Jesus.
Who would dare to say Jesus would respond to the child, "sorry, Bobby, no dice, the rules say I can't/won't do that".. I don't think so. As a matter of fact, neither does God.
Jesus said it was better to save a sheep from falling into a pit than
to blindly follow "rules" (keeping the Sabbath). Now, you may say the sheep is only a metaphor for a human soul, but He did not say a neighbor was falling into the pit.
He did not say a cartload of silver was falling in the pit.
He said a SHEEP, and that sheep was worth saving more than rote rules or rote understanding.

Anonymous said...

I like yours best n am laughing myself silly now.

Anonymous said...

I see that no one ever answers how it is known that animals have no souls. That is because YOU DON'T KNOW. This is one of the many arrogant invented 'truths' that is pointed to that has nothing whatsoever to back it up. They just don't have souls cuz we say so. The Bible doesn't specifically say one way or another, so how can you?

Anonymous said...

I am right there with you. Thank you for your post.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Sister! It is hard to fathom that people are so attached to things that they fail to attach themselves to the all-encompassing God, in whom all joy is rooted.

Vikk @ Being Catholic Day by Day said...

I've been a Catholic convert for a few years and love St. Roche. Of course, living with a pack of dogs probably has something to do with it.

When I read about this saint, it said he was the saint for dogs, knee problems, and infections. Since I was dealing one way or another with all three, I figured I'd hit a triple-header with him. He remains a favorite saint and I'm pretty sure he helped me during the last year or so when I was caring for my elderly mom and she was suffering from derlerium due to infections.