July 16, 2016
Hello my dear friends,
I recently received this excellent question from a member of the Catholic Kingdom:
"I have a question for you. Does the Corporal Work of Mercy, ‘Bury the Dead’, apply to burying animals?"
To understand my answer, we need to understand that among all the types of creatures that God has made, only two are made in His Image and Likeness - Angels and Humans. All of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy are things that Jesus points out to us as proper ways of dealing with other human beings virtuously. It is also meritorious, which means we obtain a reward. Jesus discusses Works of Mercy in the 25th chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel (verses 33-46). The scene takes place at the General Judgment of all mankind.
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33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.
34 Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in:
36 Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me.
37 Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee?
39 Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee?
40 And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.
41 Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink.
43 I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me.
44 Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee?
45 Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.
46 And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.
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So we see that Jesus is talking about showing mercy to our fellow human beings.
For that reason, properly speaking, burying our pets does not qualify as a Corporal Work of Mercy. (By the way, some excellent ways of "burying the dead" include praying each day for the salvation of those that will die that day, and also praying frequently every day for the Poor souls in Purgatory, for their relief and release. For example, see the "Three Beautiful Prayers" in the Powerful Prayer section of the Cathedral.)
We know that we must never love any human or angel as much as - or even worse, more than - we love God. This even includes the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. The reason for this is, because as wonderful as the BVM is (and She is incomprehensibly wonderful!), She is merely a creature. And God is infinitely above Her in all things. Therefore, recognizing God’s infinitely greater dignity over a mere creature and even over all of Creation put together, we must always pray for the help to strive to love God more and better than any or all creatures put together.
Because human beings are made in the Image and Likeness of God, and our pets are not, we must always recognize the dignity of a human being over all other creatures put together (except the Holy Angels). Therefore, it would be wrong to love any animal as much as - and even worse, more than - we love human beings.
Everything I have said is absolutely true. However, it is also true that we can become very attached to our pets and not very attached to some human beings. To love everyone as God desires us to love them simply means to hope and pray and offer some sacrifices for their conversion, salvation and great holiness. It does not mean that you have to personally like everyone, or that everyone needs to somehow be your ‘friend’. The idea of making a new friend every day is really absurd. It is impossible to make a real friend every day, without completely destroying and demeaning what a true friend really is. You do not need many friends in this life. You just need good ones. And a good friend is someone who will help you to know, love and serve the true God, His Son Jesus Christ and the most Blessed Virgin Mary. These good friends will help you save your soul, and even to help you grow in holiness. That is why they are true friends.
So how much affection should we give to animals? God certainly desires that we give to every aspect of creation a level and quality of affection and respect that is appropriate to it, according to God’s purpose for that creature.
When God blesses us with some nice pet, there’s nothing at all wrong with having a type of loving affection for it. There are famous stories of special pets in the lives of great Saints. So that itself is a clear example that what I am saying is true. I have also had a large number of pets in my life and though I didn’t love all of them equally, those whose personalities where more akin to my own, were a source of comfort and companionship to me. And I have buried most of the pets I have ever had. But the burial of pets is not something that is required of us by God. Some people sadly go to extremes when caring for, or burying, their pets.
So, we need to realize that the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy are valid only in our dealings with other human beings. We need to also remember that because human beings are created in the Image and Likeness of God, they have a higher dignity than all other animals (Angels are not animals), no matter how badly the human being behaves. God desires all men to be saved and we must pray, suffer and sacrifice that that happens, because it is pleasing to God that we do.
Therefore if we were to love our pet more than our parents, or even our brother or sister, that would be a serious problem that we would have to be deal with, because something very seriously is wrong in our relationship. But once we have striven to pay our debt to humanity - a debt of dignity and a general type of love and respect (because of how they are created, not because of what we think they have made of themselves) - then we are free to form close and warm relationships with our pets. And in that caring love that you have for them, it is certainly permissible to bury your pet or somehow properly dispose of their remains.
One final point: we can make everything that we do a prayer and pleasing to God. We accomplish this by doing what we are going to do in the Names of, and in union with, Jesus and Mary; and for the love of God and Jesus and Mary. So, in this way, even though burying an animal is not specifically a Corporal Work of Mercy, if it is done with the intention of doing it in union with Jesus and Mary, etc. then the act will not only become meritorious, but also quite pleasing to Heaven. The lives of the Saints are filled with reminders that we should desire to do absolutely everything in the Names of, in union with, and for the Love of, God and Jesus and Mary. And so, if we keep this desire when caring for our pets (in their life or death), then we will be thanking God in the most perfect way possible… and giving Him great happiness and glory!
Thank you again, dear friends, for being a part of the Catholic Kingdom. We are blessed to have you with us.
Until we speak again …
May Our Lord and Our Lady fill you, and all those you love, with every true peace, blessing, grace and virtue… now and forever.
Yours in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary,