¡Benditos sean los animales en la día de nuestro San Francisco!
For the record, I vote yes! All dogs go to heaven. Or, at least they can. I haven’t come down on any one side with regard to the finer points of animals entering heaven, but I’m pretty sure Saint Francis would agree with me. Certainly, any animal is as able as the next being to make it into heaven.
I know Saint Francis, Patron of Animals is one of the best-loved saints for a lot of people as children, and I really appreciate his role. In a way, Saint Francis seems to bridge the gap between the differing realities of childhood and adulthood. From childhood to adulthood, we transition from a world where animals, nature, and the world in general, is far more sentient, to a world where it may cease to be so.
When did a beloved pet, or a stuffed animal, or a special spot on the playground become just an animal, a toy, or a patch of scraggly trees? Was it when the humans around us became more fully “alive” to us? When we started paying more attention to the feelings and behaviors of others? When the words and actions of others began impacting us much more intensely? Did people just begin to take up all the imagination-space on some ant-like march toward reproduction? Was there ever a time when the non-human world around us was as fully alive as it was in childhood, while the human world around us was as fully alive as it is in adulthood?
I realize that Saint Francis probably didn’t ponder over these bittersweet questions, but in some ways, his life seems to have given us a hint. He calmed a wolf and integrated it into a village (though I expect the villagers and the wolf probably always had a bit of tension in their relationship!). He preached openly to birds. He kept his connections with the human and the non-human worlds alive. He accepted that the worlds existed as one, and he encouraged the humans (and probably the animals, too!) to allow the worlds of human and non-human to intermingle and to find peace.
We are more the inheritors of Saint Francis’ kind spirit than we perhaps realize. For most of us, to varying degrees, the live and tangible connections we feel with the non-human world, especially animals, aren’t acceptable in public, or even among acquaintances. But, I think many of us never lose those connections. We still coo to our dogs, check in with our betta fish, plead with our computers, and make the passing comment to our plants. Many of us (I believe, or rather, I hope) say a prayer for the departed souls of roadkill, catch spiders to put them outside, and just generally hope that creepy-crawlies would stay out of sight, so we wouldn’t feel the need to crush them. The connections are there, even if with varying degrees of social acceptability.
In many spiritual traditions, the connection between humans and animals has a champion. Hinduism, for instance, has Ayyappa, an incarnation of Shiva and god of forests and wild animals. The Olympian pantheon held Artemis as the protectress of wild animals. In the Catholic tradition, we are blessed to have Saint Francis of Assisi. He reminds us that there is space, in our hearts, our imaginations, and our actions, for the worlds of humans and animals to both be endowed with sentience and spirit.
So… ¡Gracias tan mucho, tan mucho, a nuestro san Francisco de Asís! I can tell my godchildren with confidence, if Saint Francis has any say in it, all dogs can go to heaven! But, I must also tell my godchildren that we’re not there, yet! Right now, we’re all alive–human and non-human–together, on this earth. So let’s love each other, maintain our connections to each other, and strive for peace on our path to heaven together.
And, blessings to my three lovely pets on today, the Feast Day of Saint Francis:
Outsourced (betta fish), Boniez (betta fish) – R.I.P., and Bhombolina (greyhound).