I will open up rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the broad valleys; I will turn the desert into a marshland, and the dry ground into springs of water. I will plant in the desert the cedar, acacia, myrtle, and olive; I will set in the wasteland the cypress, together with the plane tree and the pine, That all may see and know, observe and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it (Isaiah 41:18-20).
Today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah must be read with an eye to the story of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. The sacred writer tells us that God created the universe and then placed the Adam and Eve in a Garden which is nothing short of a paradise. When sin entered the created universe through Adam, he and his mate were expelled from the garden. From that point on, the Scriptures depict the Israelites and their neighbors as people who are constantly trying to tame the desert. Jerusalem, the center of their world, was located atop a hill that was (and still is) surrounded by a desert. According to the prophet, when the Messiah visits the earth, he will turn the desert into a new paradise.
Just yesterday I was reading that Pope Francis apparently made a statement stating that our pets would be with us in heaven. Of course, the media depicted this as a departure from the position of previous popes, including Benedict XVI. While there is no question that certain writings have stated that animal and vegetable life does not possess a soul and cannot, therefore, be said to inherit life everlasting, the notion that other creatures in our created world would enjoy the benefits of Jesus’ redemptive death and resurrection is not something new. Indeed, there are many scholastic philosophers and theologians who have maintained that Jesus redeemed the entire universe through his obedience to the will of God. One of them, St. Bonaventure of Bagnoreggio, was a 13th century follower of St. Francis of Assisi. I am sure that I don’t have to remind any of you of St. Francis’ love for animals.
The Prophet Isaiah seems to support this argument. If the desert is the result of sin entering the created world, then when Jesus defeated sin, the natural world would also benefit from his gift of redemption. It follows quite logically. The picture that the prophet paints for us today is just another way of saying just that.
God created the entire universe and all that it is in it. The creation of Adam and Eve is but the climax of God’s creative work in the first chapters of Genesis. Our world, our environment is a gift from the Almighty. We were placed in the garden to begin with and were charged with caring for God’s creation. While we will have to wait until we actually enter the gates of paradise to learn the definitive answer to the question of our pets making it to heaven, the notion is not all that far-fetched. Jesus comes into our world to restore it and its inhabitants.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld. O.F.M., Administrator