July 16, 2017 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause
July 16, 2017
Fr. George Smiga
When I was in the fifth grade, I really wanted a dog. “No way,” my mother said. “After a few months you’ll tire of that dog, and I will have to take care of it.” She was right, of course. I will not ask for a hand-count of how many parents quickly became the primary care givers of their children’s pets. That is not my point. Because I could not have a dog, I convinced my parents to let me keep a goldfish. A goldfish is not exciting as a dog. But I enjoyed feeding it and watching it swim around in the little bowl that was its home. Then one morning I got up and there it was floating on the water as dead as could be. We buried the goldfish in the backyard, and after the funeral I asked my father, “Do you think my goldfish is now with Jesus?” “That’s a good question,” my father said. “Why don’t you ask your religion teacher? This is why we send you to Catholic school.”
So the next day I asked Sister Philomena, “Is my goldfish in heaven?” “Not a chance,” she said. “Eternal life is only for human beings. When an animal dies, it’s just dead.” Not very consoling words for someone who just buried a goldfish, but Sister Philomena was not making them up. In the 1850’s Pious IX taught that animals do not have a rational soul and therefore cannot distinguish between good and evil. So animals are incapable of eternal life. This teaching was, by and large, Catholic teaching to our present day. Then in 2015 Pope Francis released his Encyclical, Laudato Si. In that encyclical he boldly states that every creature gloriously transformed will share in eternal life. Now, I like Pope Francis, but I can’t give him credit for those thoughts because Paul says the same thing in today’s second reading. He tells the Romans that when Jesus returns in glory, all of creation will share in that glory with him—all of creation, not just humans, not just animals, but trees and mountains and oceans as well. God made all that is, and God made all that is good. So when Jesus comes to finish his work of salvation, all of creation will be gloriously transformed into a new existence. Paul even uses the image of all creation groaning as in labor pains, because all of creation is ready to give birth to the Kingdom of God.
Now, if we accept Paul’s words, and I think we should, it seems to me that there are two consequences: respect and delight. If all that is comes from God’s hands, then we should respect all that God has made. Respect every creature. Now, all creatures are not of equal value. A baby is worth a lot more than a flea. But every creature in its own way reflects a part of God’s goodness and glory. Therefore, even as we use creation for our own benefit, for our nourishment and technological advances, we should use other creatures with reverence, because they are holy. Creation deserves our respect.
Creation should also lead to delight. In these beautiful summer days we should rejoice in what God has made. When you laugh at the speed with which your dog goes after his ball, or are stunned by how green the grass is, or are suddenly lifted up by the sweet smell of fir trees in the woods, remember all of these creatures are not only good and beautiful—they are eternal.