That nice man, Pope Francis, says you get to see your pets again in Heaven. But Pope Benedict is a mean old Grinch who wants to remove the animals from your Nativity scene Christmas decorations.
Please don’t believe everything you read. The great strength of Catholicism is its insistence that reason be joined together with faith. Meanwhile, the media goes its merry way, endlessly reporting irrational things about the Popes.
Just in time for Christmas, here is the unbelievable story currently circulating:
In his weekly audience in St. Peter’s, last week Francis quoted the apostle Paul who comforted a child who was crying after his dog died. “One day we will see our animals again in eternity of Christ,” Francis quoted Paul as saying. The Pope added: “Paradise is open to all God’s creatures.”
Well, first of all, when did the apostle Paul ever comfort a crying child about his dead dog? No such account exists. It’s not in the Bible. And, until now, I hadn’t even heard an apocryphal story about such a thing.
Maybe it was Pope Francis who comforted the crying child? If so, you’d think we’d have seen pictures. But then where did this story come from?
If there is any real-life basis behind this sketchy media report, my best guess about what really happened is some child in the crowd must have taken comfort from what Francis actually said about Heaven in his November 26 general audience in St. Peter’s square:
Sacred Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this marvelous plan cannot but involve everything that surrounds us and came from the heart and mind of God. The Apostle Paul says it explicitly, when he says that “Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). Other texts utilize the image of a “new heaven” and a “new earth” (cf. 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1), in the sense that the whole universe will be renewed and will be freed once and for all from every trace of evil and from death itself. What lies ahead is the fulfillment of a transformation that in reality is already happening, beginning with the death and resurrection of Christ. Hence, it is the new creation; it is not, therefore, the annihilation of the cosmos and of everything around us, but the bringing of all things into the fullness of being, of truth and of beauty.
Now look again at what the media turned this into: “‘One day we will see our animals again in eternity of Christ’, Francis quoted Paul as saying.”
Oh, really? Is that a direct quote from Romans 8:21? According to the Vatican website, it’s not even a direct quote of what Francis actually said! Obviously, somebody has distorted Francis here to suit an agenda.
Can the media be trusted, either to accurately report the words of Francis, or to accurately interpret what he meant by his words? All year long, we have been reading about people fighting over what Francis really means. All year long, people have been blaming Francis himself for providing too many opportunities to be misinterpreted. It’s now become a cliché to complain about how unclear Francis can be!
But is all the fuss really Francis’ fault? Look again at what the media made of that long paragraph I just quoted from his general audience. They apparently invented a new Bible verse and attributed it to Paul. Then they apparently took an interpretive paraphrase of Francis’ words and attributed it directly to him: “The Pope added: ‘Paradise is open to all God’s creatures.’”
Clearly, it is unjust to blame Francis. Perhaps, in this instance, we should blame the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. It argued Francis’ teaching on November 26 innovatively “broadens the hope of salvation and eschatological beatitude to animals and the whole of creation.” Well, that’s quite a stretch! At least their headline wasn’t: “Pope says everybody goes to Heaven, pets included.”
If you can’t be happy in Heaven without your pets, then surely your pets will be there. But maybe you have not yet begun to think properly about what Heaven’s happiness will really be like.
As Francis said in his general audience about Heaven: “More than a place, it is a ‘state’ of soul in which our deepest hopes are fulfilled in superabundance … We will finally be clothed in the joy, peace and love of God, completely, without any limit, and we will come face to face with Him! It is beautiful to think of this, to think of Heaven. We will all be there together. It is beautiful, it gives strength to the soul.”
As for old Pope Emeritus Benedict, two years later the media still hasn’t apologized for misreporting the contents of his third Jesus of Nazareth book, The Infancy Narratives. Benedict begins by pointing out, in the Bible’s account of the Nativity scene, “there is no reference to animals.”
The media threw this in the face of all the fundamentalists who think they know what the literal sense of the Bible is. Then the media threw Benedict under the bus by implying he wanted people to remove all the animals from their Christmas decorations.
But in his book Benedict discusses the wisdom of iconographic symbolism and actually concludes: “No representation of the crib is complete without the ox and the ass.” So, this Christmas, do yourself a favor. Insist on joining reason with faith. Just say no to every media meme.
Go read the popes themselves instead. Discover the reasons behind why they say what they say. It will expand your mind. Jesus didn’t become man so that we could become stupider and stupider.
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