Animals and the Catholic Faith
This weekend, in preparation for the feast of St. Francis on October 4, we will have a Blessing of the Animals in front of the Church on Sunday 9/29 at 3PM. Certainly St. Francis of Assisi held a deep fondness for all creatures - humans and animals - and we are called to respect those creatures as well. After all, from the beginning we were placed as stewards to "have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth" (Genesis 1:26b). What does this stewardship entail and is it possible to overstep the boundaries of stewardship?
First, following from the Scripture quite, here's what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says:
Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.
God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives. (CCC 2416-2417)
As we read in Genesis, God created all things out of nothing and what He created was good in His eyes. However, we see only in the creation of man and woman that they are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). Although all living creatures have a soul,
plants and animals have what is called a
which ends with the death of the being (there is no Catholic teaching regarding "doggie heaven".) Only the human person has an immortal soul. As much as we may love animals, especially our own family pets, human beings must not ever be equated with animals.
This means that we do not have the liberty to abuse animals. Although it is permissible to kill animals for purposes of food, shelter, or to improve the human condition, it is morally wrong to cause animals to suffer and to die needlessly. In other words, while it is proper to kill an animal for food, it is morally wrong to just kill and to waste.
A related question is: What to do with an animal that is suffering? In such cases it may be permissible to end the animal's suffering - assuming no reasonable remedy can be employed - by causing the death of the animal (euthanizing, otherwise known as "putting to sleep" or "putting down"). Note that while this may be morally acceptable and humane treatment of animals, it is never morally acceptable to deliberately cause the death of an innocent human person, even if it is to shorten suffering.
While we respect all creation and must use creation wisely, the key is “we can use it.” Employing stewardship as it has been defined in Scripture, nothing is intrinsically wrong with using animals prudently for labor, transportation, clothing, food, or other needs. One must always remember the distinction between human beings and animals, and use good reason and judgment when using animals.
Whoever feeds a hungry animal feeds their own soul.
Charlie Chaplin KBE, British comic actor
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on Friday, September 27 at 3:00PM