Spiritual theologians often have cautioned Christians about relying on visions. St. John of the Cross…
Can pets love us back?
Question: Can our pets love us?
— Paul VanHoudt, Erie, Colorado
Answer: No, our pets cannot love us in any human sense of the word. Love requires freedom and a rational soul.
It is clear that pets, especially dogs and (sometimes) cats, do manifest lovelike traits — for example, they can exhibit a certain loyalty and attraction to us. They even manifest a kind of excitement at our return. Much of this can be explained by a pack-instinct or a connection in their experience between us and food or other pleasurable things. St. Thomas Aquinas says that animals can experience pleasure but not joy, which requires a rational soul. It is the same with love. They can anticipate pleasures associated with us and show excitement, but this should not be confused with love, which involves willing the good of the other.
Sin and suffering
Question: In one place in the Bible, the apostles ask Jesus if a man was born blind due to the sin of the father or his own sin. Neither, Jesus said, meaning sin does not cause illness or handicap. Yet every person he heals, he first says to them, “Your sins are forgiven,” and then he heals their affliction. It seems to me a contradiction. Please clarify.
— Jeannine Aucoin, Henniker, New Hampshire
Answer: To be fair and accurate, Jesus did not always say, “Your sins are forgiven” when he healed someone. Rather, and in most cases, he says some version of, “Your faith has healed you.” At other times he inquires, “Do you believe that I can do this?”
There are some cases, notably the paralytic in Capernaum, where the Lord says, “‘Your sins are forgiven'” (Mt 9:5). But in such a passage, there are multiple layers going on. In the first place, Jesus is showing his authority to forgive sins. If he can say to a paralytic, “Take up your mat and walk,” then he can also forgive sins.
At another, more implicit level, there is a teaching that our sins are more serious than we imagine. Jesus looks at a paralyzed man and sees his most serious problem to be his sins. We do not think like this. We are horrified at serious diseases and physical injuries. We dread them most of all. But the Lord sees our sins as our most serious problem. Thus Jesus ministers to the man’s more serious problem and teaches us thereby to assess our situation differently. We are almost in a panic if we have financial or health problems. Instead we should be more concerned with our moral state than if our body is healthy and buff, or if our financial portfolio is robust.
So, Jesus’ actions here do not amount to a contradiction of what is his overall teaching that illness or deformity are not necessarily the result of personal sins.
There is, of course, a broad relationship between sin and all suffering. God offered us paradise where suffering was unknown. He further warned that sinfully rejecting his warning about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would lead to suffering and death. Knowing this, Adam still sinned, and we now are consigned to live in paradise lost. Suffering and death came to us through original sin. Personal sin may also bring certain sufferings as well, such as disease and addiction.
However, there is an unevenness of sufferings in this world. Some do suffer as a result of sins committed, others suffer who have not personally sinned so as to cause it. Hence we do well to refrain from sweeping conclusions about how and why people suffer in this or that case.