I must point out that I (as a Catholic) do not, under any circumstances, believe in the practice of human euthanasia. As a testament to my reverence for human life in all its forms (conception through natural death), I trust in Divine Providence that all stages of life (including bodily decay through age, illness, etc) are meant for a higher purpose.
Animal euthanasia, however, is an entirely different ballgame.
Mary, concerned that Midnight might be trapped inside some sort of "kitty-Purgatory" asked me why it was OK to euthanize animals but not humans, especially when it's considered "humane" to end the suffering of a terminally ill pet.
This is an extremely valid question, and one that shows logic and compassion. I've been posed this question in the past, but never really took the time to explain as I did to Mary yesterday. I'm posting an edited version of my response here in the hopes that it answers that question for others who are grappling with the same fear, worry or confusion.
The short answer to the question, "Do all dogs (or animals in general) REALLY go to Heaven?" is YES. No collecting of $200 as you pass Go, and no jail-time through Purgatory. Animals do have souls, and they do go straight to Heaven.
Now for the more involved answer...
In Judiac tradition (keeping in mind that Catholicism is the fulfillment - the full expression - of the promises made by God to the Jewish people), there are a few words to describe the life and soul of both people and animals. The same words are used in an effort to paint an increasingly detailed description of how the physical world becomes animated through the invisible (or Divine) world.
For example, in Genesis, the word "neshama" means "breath" or "wind." It translations roughly into "breath like my own" In other words, when God animated Adam and Eve, He very concretely breathed Life into them, in His own Image. This breath of life... this "neshama" is the soul... the immortal animation of our mortal bodies.
In Leviticus 17:11, the word "nefesh" is utilized in stating that "the life [nefesh] of the flesh is in the blood." As a result of the close connection between blood as life-sustaining and God's breath as a fluid, living function, Judaic tradition revered blood and soul to be inseparable. In other words, blood was the physical manifestation of the soul, which is why it wasn't considered impure until it left the body (thus no longer serving a life-sustaining purpose). It is also why blood was used in worship. Blood, being so closely united to the spirit- to the breath of God- was revered and precious.
Finally, we have "ruah" in Ecclesiastes. Much like "neshama" from Genesis, "ruah," too, means "breath of God." The beautiful sentiment found in Ecclesiastes 12:7 states that a person dies when "the dust returns to the ground where it had been and the [ruah]returns to the God who had given it."
In other words, death happens when our bodies exhale that final life-sustaining breath which returns upwards to the God who originally deigned to forge that breath in a mother's womb at conception. The physical body, now separated from the soul, decays rapidly into the dust it was created from.
To break it down:
Ruah is the invisible breath of God that animates physical bodies
Nefesh is the result of this ruah (the physical motion of the invisible animation)
Neshama, to cycle back to the story of Genesis, is specifically granted to man through Adam because this breath of God was "like unto Ours." In other words, Neshama is the unique part of God's Ruah that enlightens humanity and gives us the capability for free will.
So yes, God gave the gift of Life to all His creation, but He reserved a special, more enlightened life for Man. That is "neshama" and it is because of this "neshama" that Purgatory exists for humanity, but not for our beloved pets.
Since animals have no free will (or neshama) to utilize, they can never really "sin." Sure, they can pee on the carpet, chew your favorite boots or claw apart your newly upholstered sofa, but sin? Not so much. As a result, once their mortal life ends, their life force is returned to God, free of the stain of sin, and thus not in need of the cleansing of Purgatory.
Humans, on the other hand, who have been given the grace of Free Will, also have the responsibility of using that gift wisely. Since humanity is pretty much incapable of always utilizing Free Will to do good, Purgatory was created as a mercy to help us one day unite ourselves back to the God who first gave us life.
It is important to note, at this point, that while we are still alive, God offers us, through Divine Providence, countless opportunities to rectify the wrongs we created by misusing the gift of Free Will. This counts as a "Purgatory on Earth."
I'll be dedicating tomorrow's blog to this. Stay tuned!