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It is the week of the Good Shepherd and we have to ask how good we are of shepherds when it comes to others, as well as animals. Have you ever wondered if mankind may have radically strayed from the path of Creation? Popes -- John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI -- have. They both wrote about the spiritual importance of animals, which these days, too often, are treated as mere "things" (to be done with in any way that gratifies us).

No doubt, animals are needed as a source of food and were used as such throughout the Bible (as well as for sacrifice). They are not on a par with us. The issue is whether they are treated with respect. God did create them and Saint Francis taught how we should treat them. A deeper issue: do living creatures other than man have energy constructs -- "souls" -- that supersede death?

We get constant e-mails from those who claim to have had spiritual experiences with their pets.

But first, a few philosophical points. Pointed out a viewer named Mona: "The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem was witnessed by stable animals: shepherds and sheep and shepherd dogs, stable cats and birds, Creation and men close to nature. The honor of the birth of Jesus falls upon the donkey who transported the Holy Family. So there is a definite order in nature, the domestic and the wild... We are told that the lion shall lay down with the lamb in redeemed nature. And is not the symbol of Our Lord the Lamb of God? The atrocities of man against his fellow man can be seen in man's atrocities against his personal and domestic animals and against the wild animals. We find that murderers actually have a pattern of animal abuse in their childhood, which if unrecognized or unchecked evolves into serious criminal matters. We are wise to pay attention to the plight of nature, it speaks for or against us before the throne of God."

Now: we're a ways away from the lion and lamb laying down next to each other (and are not about to swim with a Great White shark), but we recall how Saint Francis was able to approach a vicious wolf, and we see some remarkable cases these days of humans interacting with bears and tigers. When Europeans first came to North America, it's said that squirrels would come right up to them; they had no fear of humans. It's a fear that developed over time.

We can go too far with pets. There are now gourmet snacks. There was even a special airline for them!

But there does seem to be a spiritual dimension.

A fish coughs up a coin. A donkey speaks. (This is all in Scripture.)

Opined another, Matthew Taylor, who was upset over a friend who dismissed all animals as nothing: "We were made in Godís image. So many people, particularly fundamentalists, are always trying to make a clear distinction between man and animals. They want to make certain that its known that man has been elevated well above all other living creatures, that God loves man above and beyond anything else in His worldly Creation. But itís to the degree that it sometimes appears to be driven by insecurity. Iím secure. I know absolutely that our Lord God created me in His Image. He bestowed in me a free will, which He gave to me as a gift, the ultimate show of His love. This is only surpassed by God giving us His only Son, God himself, to carry our sins, die on the Cross and reconcile us with the Father. There is no question where we stand in Godís creation. However, does this make animals any less than what they are? I donít need to diminish animals to exalt myself. God created every creature for a purpose. Dogs were created for Man. They provide Man with loyal companionship, with joy, with love. Where does that come from? Thatís from God. Thatís His spirit."

Virginia Lopez of Antioch, Tennessee, felt the Lord sent her family a manifestation.

"Last year in May, our 16-year-old Chihuahua, Caspar, died. Somehow, it seemed impossible that he had gone from puppyhood to 'grumpy old dog' and now was gone from our lives. Caspar died on a Saturday morning, and that night when our son, Nick, came home from work, we had a good cry and talked about all the clever, funny things Caspar did over the years. A day or two later, Nick told me that while he was on the computer that Saturday night, he happened to look up and saw Caspar, sitting in the doorway. Caspar stared at him without blinking, just like he used to do. Nickís initial reaction was, 'Oh, Caspar made it up the stairs by himself,' something he wasnít capable of for nearly a year because of severe arthritis. Then it dawned on Nick:  Caspar was dead. Nick said that at that point Caspar stood up, gave his signature little sneeze that was his acknowledgement of any given situation, walked out of the bedroom and was gone. Nick is 35 and not given to hallucinations or flights of fancy. The two shared an especially close bond -- although we all loved Caspar. I believe this experience was a gift from the Good God our Father, to console us and let us know that death is not the end, but the beginning of a new and eternal life. I like to think we'll be reunited with Caspar one day."

"I loved your article on the debate of animals having souls," said Geri Sibilla of Phoenix. "My sister and I have debated this for years!  My family had a miniature Yorkshire terrier who drowned in our pool back in 2004. My family was devastated. My son, who was eleven at the time, cried himself to sleep that night. The next day, he woke up and told me, 'Mom, I know Rocco is ok, he's living with God in Heaven.' I was like, "Okaaay: how do you know?' And he said, 'God told me in my dream last night. This is what he told me, in his own words:

"'I had a dream that I was crying in our backyard because everything had to have an end. Suddenly, God appeared out of the sky. He was wearing a glorious gold shiny robe with a silver medal on his gold belt that bore a Cross on it. His beard was snowy white that went down to His chest. God asked, "Why are you crying child?" in a voice of thunder. "God," I said in astonishment, "Why does everything have to die?" God then shrank to human size and said gently, "Everything has to die because I miss them very much and want them to come back to Me." Then I asked "If our universe ends, will you create a new one?" God held my hand and gave me a tissue I can use over and over and answered "Yes, In fact, I have created so many other universes in a number I cannot even count; it's infinity!" Then He said, "I'll create a new one for you, with new colors, new plants, and new life!" God then went up to the sky and turned into a yellow ball which then was the sun and everything turned back to normal.' When I told a priest friend this dream, he said, 'Well, when Jesus comes again, He'll be riding a white horse, where do you think that horse lives?'"

"Just this weekend, I was telling some friends of my experience with animals in Medjugorje," wrote another correspondent of that alleged and famous apparition site, which is under Vatican study. "I was praying the Stations as I ascended the mountain of the cement Cross. There was only one other person ascending ahead of me. The valley below was peaceful after several days of rain. I could hear the prayers being said in the church in preparation for the apparition (October, 1998). At the time of the apparition, I stepped over to the side to look down at the valley and at that very moment, every creature in the valley below came to life. The birds took flight, the dogs began to howl, the sheep and every animal lifted their voices in a loud cacophony. It was  amazing! I knew then that what was happening in Medjugorje was of God because all of His creation was crying out in reverence to the very presence of the Queen of Heaven. I have never forgotten that special moment."

In the early years, a flock of swallows or sparrows always lit on the ledges of the church chirping and singing but halting at the very moment of apparition.

"I observed that the birds would sing around the clock," said Joe Kleczka to a newsletter. "I remember one evening walking back to our house, after the Adoration of the Cross at St. James Church, at about 10:00 p.m., the birds were singing.  Early one morning, while in Medjugorje, I awoke at about 1:30 AM and went out on the balcony to get some fresh air and  I heard the birds singing.  Also, the birds used to all stop chirping in unison when Our Lady would appear to the visionaries and start chirping again in unison when she left. I remember saying to myself what kind of birds are these. I thought they may be a special breed of bird in Yugoslavia."

The opposite seems true of evil places. "I've been to Auschwitz twice and I have to say, it was very quiet. It was really eerie," said a blogger.

Noted another: "From the trees and bushes alongside the newly erected Crucifix beside St. James church, the sparrows swoop down into the fountains of waters circulating beneath the cross. Cleansed and refreshed, they hop onto a ledge and ruffle their feathers to dry themselves before flying back to a nearby lofty branch or bush. Similarly, on the opposite side of the church, pilgrims are restored and revived, their souls cleansed and absolved by the healing sacrament of reconciliation. How God works in mysterious and providential ways. Our Lady once spoke to the visionaries about Godís providence. She suggested that they read regularly, Matthew 6 : 25-34. (Trust in Providence: "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them...). The life of the sparrows at Medjugorje are a wonderful illustration of this promise."


[resources: Animals in Heaven?]

[see also: Up to 35,000 elephants slain and Sharks headed for extinction? and Petition: save the bees]

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[Further note: We will adhere (strictly) to whatever the Vatican rules on Medjugorje but note the countless testimonies of so many kinds that come from there.

From Marisa Timm:  "I read with interest your main article today about whether pets have souls.  Several years ago, we lost our beloved cat Sylvester and that very night, I opened the Bible to this passage: Genesis 9:8-17" 'Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, 'And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the Ark, every beast of the earth. Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.' And God said: 'This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations.  I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.' And God said to Noah, 'This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.' I took great comfort in this as God reminds us that His covenant is with all His creatures. Giving humans dominion over all creatures does not negate that those creatures also have souls. Anyway, I have been comforted by this passage many times and have had so many experiences that profoundly suggest that animals perceive the Divine."

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