I think one of the things that made me fall out of love with the Roman Catholic Church began the Saturday morning in Catechism class that our nun told us that heaven was for people, not animals. We were sure we heard that wrong.
Robert, the boy from down the block who always wore striped shirts stood up and said, with grave authority, “My Grandpa told me our dog would be waiting for us in heaven, but he said there would be no skunks.” He wrinkled his nose. No one even giggled and usually the mere mention of skunks was enough to send a gale of laughter.
“Well, that is only partly true,” Sister Mary Catherine said. “There won’t be any animals in heaven, that means no skunks and no pets.”
“But my Dad said our cat Tammy is in heaven, and he’s a policeman so he knows,” I said without raising my hand. Policemen knew the most of anyone especially my dad.
“No.” Sister Mary Catherine sat at her desk and looked straight at me and waved a pointed finger in the air, “I’m sure your father was mistaken.” She stood up. “Animals don’t have souls. They can’t go to heaven. One must have a clean and pure soul to get to heaven.”
She tried to move on to the rest of the lesson on sacrements. I think Diana, the girl sitting right behind me cried the whole rest of the class and I heard others sniffling. A box of tissues were passed from desk to desk. Becky passed a note with the box to me from across the aisle. “She iz rong” it said. I nodded and looked at the back of Sister Mary Catherine writing on the chalk board. Her habit was the same color as the board and she had chalk dust on her sleeve.
I was pretty sure this was a big mistake. I was going to help Sister Mary Catherine come to realize she was wrong. As the eldest of 5 kids it was often my job to act as interpreter and clarify the issues at hand. “I’m going to ask Father Thomas about that.” I sat straight up and started to rock side to side, like my whole 9 year old body was saying no. Later, when I saw Father Thomas as we left the classroom I did ask him. He confirmed the awful truth of the morning, animals don’t go to heaven. They have no souls. “See you at Mass tomorrow,” he added.
I had no skip in me for the walk home. My little brother and sister followed behind me, jumping cracks and whacking at the weeds with a stick. When we got home I plunked down on the stoop and had a think. My brain felt swimmy and raced with the wrongs of this news. How could God be so mean as to say heaven was only for people? If that were so, I didn’t want to go to heaven. Ever.
We had just a few pets growing up. For the most part 5 kids was all my parents could handle. We had a beagle for a few months but he wandered away, as is the beagle nature, and probably enticed by the lake and woods a mile away. I think he knew too, 5 kids was all my parents could handle. A while later we had a cat that I don’t really remember too much about, because she wasn’t really my cat. I think cats pick a favorite and that’s their person. I do know my dad did indeed come home one day to tell us “Tammy went to heaven.” I liked thinking about my Grandma and Grandpa in heaven with Tammy on their lap, and really the only thing I had worried about, was brown cat hair on the white heavenly robes they must wear up there.
It wasn’t until I was grown and married that I had a real pet, a pet that chose me. A pet that was heaven sent I believe. And I do believe that each of the cats that we have lived with were sent to us, to unconditionally love us through some really difficult times, times when we didn’t really love others or ourselves.
Mona was my cat and decided to stay with us when her second owners moved to California. Mona walked about the house telling stories and making her opinions known. I was a wanna be fiber artist and Mona loved to stitch and weave and claim whatever bit of wool was laying around. She entertained and kept watch over our young daughter as we were starting a business. There were times when Mona was the only one that kissed Kate’s cheek when she went to bed. Mona taught me the meaning of unconditional–forgiving me for my temper and my tears, and my sins. Mona comforted me and was a very best friend for more than 13 years. It broke my heart to let her go to heaven.
That same day we went to the animal shelter and came home with Frodo and Zoey, both gray Tabby cats. I had knelt down on the shelter floor to visit with the cute little kitties and big lug 6 1/2 month old Frodo came to sit on the back of my legs. He wouldn’t get up. He claimed me. Zoey, 3 1/2 months, shyly charmed us with the way she cuddled and fit in a scooped arm and didn’t try to wriggle away. She chose us too. Zoey picked our daughter for her person. They were best friends all the way through college, and moves to California, and Texas. Zoey waited for Kate to come say goodbye before she died, minutes after her arrival from the airport. Frodo and Zoey were with us for 22+ years. I still miss both of them, but especially Frodo. I am positive the Lord sent this cat to be with me as I struggled through depression and anxiety, business loss, the loss of our home, and nearly the loss of each other.
These animals are in my heart, a part of my history, a part of my soul. I believe we are connected soul to soul. And, this is what the Lord expected and wanted when he created these animals, and we humans. And yes, I believe with all of my heart that heaven is filled with animals for those who expect them there, and should you want slobbery kisses and puppy breath, you shall have them. Likewise, the thrum of a sleeping cat on your lap.
Today, an Internet blogger friend lost a family dog. Another blogger friend and his family are expecting to say goodbye to their dog. Last week, my husband’s boss lost a cat. I sympathize with them and appreciate the feeling of having a hole poked straight through your heart. You will have tears but you will have warm thoughts and sweet memories ahead. You’ll also have the measure of their lives for the next ones you let in to claim your heart.
Yes, we have a cat now. He totally is my husband’s cat. His name is Boomer. They are buddies. Spot Boomer in the picture below? The two are nap reading in the chair. Boomer is upsidedown and sideways next to Bob, head drooped off the chair.
Here’s a terrific book about cats and understanding them.