The Difference Between Humans and Animals

"Creation of Adam" (detail) by Michelangelo

“Creation of Adam” (detail) by Michelangelo

“What made you establish man in so great a dignity?”

A couple of weeks ago I was at a farmer’s market on a lovely spot right by the ocean. One of the booths that featured woodwork had a carved sign display saying: “Animals are People Too!” Certainly, I don’t think the author of that statement meant for us to take that claim literally, but it does offer us the opportunity to thoughtfully ponder the distinction between animals and human beings.

First, I must say that animals are truly amazing creatures of God and special gifts to us in many ways. Nearly everyone can remember a pet that has a special place in their heart. Who hasn’t marveled at the song of the mockingbird and enjoyed the velvety feel of a rabbit’s fur? I remember the first time I realized how relaxing it was just to watch fish swim back and forth in an aquarium, or to have a cat purr in my lap.

We feel a great connection with animals, yet I’m reminded in Genesis that Adam could not find a suitable partner who was his equal in any of the animals. Only humans are a unique combination of both the physical world and the spiritual world, made up of a mysterious union of a body and a spiritual soul. No wonder we are so complex, so noble, yet so earth-bound and limited at the same time.

On the other hand, animals are without spiritual capacities of intellect and free will. Chimpanzees or dolphins will never gather together to have a discussion on the concept of truth, or debate the existence of God, or share their thoughts on eternity. Coming down a notch from that, you won’t find them working on calculus problems or naming the constellations either.   Animals can be smart but they cannot think abstractly or freely choose to act against their instincts. They show no sign of spirituality or concern with ultimate issues. They can communicate but they do not have language, in the formal sense, as human beings do. Animals live on a purely horizontal plane whereas human beings live in both a horizontal and vertical plane.

Essentially, only human beings are made in the “Imago Dei,” in the image and likeness of God. All other beings, including animals, participate in God insofar as they exist and are what God has called them to be, that is they glorify God insofar as they are what they are. A dog glorifies God by being a dog, just as a lion glorifies God by being a lion and a rock (an inanimate object) glorifies God by being a rock. Given that only human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, only human beings are rational (that is, open to the transcendent, with unique intellectual, cultural, and communicative abilities, conscious of time, reality and truth.) Given this, only human beings have an inherent spiritual and religious nature.

Essentially, human life is more valuable than animal life because of our unique relationship with God, as explained in paragraph # 356 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Of all visible creatures only man is able to know and love his Creator. He is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake, and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity.”

And I will conclude with the quote from St. Catherine of Siena:

“What made you establish man in so great a dignity? Certainly the incalculable love by which you have looked on your creature in yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed you created her, by love you have given her a being capable of tasting your eternal Good.” (St. Catherine of Siena)

by Sister Immaculata O.C.D.
Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles

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Promoting a Deeper Spiritual Life Among Families through Healthcare, Education and Retreats

The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles strive to give striking witness as a vibrant, thriving community of dedicated women with an all-consuming mission. It is our God-given mission, a mission of the heart, a mission of loving service to the poor, the sick, the needy and the uneducated. Our loving service overflows from each sister’s profound life of prayer. We strive to reflect His life and hope and His promise to all that light has come into our world and darkness has not overcome it.

A look at the history of our community, with its motherhouse in Alhambra, California, reveals how its life-giving presence has come about. During the beginning decades of the 1900s just as the epic Mexican revolution was subsiding, a ruthless religious persecution was gaining momentum in Mexico. This horrible persecution accompanied the birth and humble beginnings of our community, a legacy that Mother Luisita, our foundress, and her two companions brought with them as religious refugees entering the Unites States in 1927.

Those seeds planted by Mother Luisita, now a candidate for sainthood, have taken deep root in the United States since those early days. People and places have changed throughout the years, yet the heart of our mission remains. As an autonomous religious institute since 1983 we continue to carry out our loving service in our healthcare facilities, retreat houses and schools which remain to this day centers of life and hope. Today we are moving forward together “Educating for Life with the Mind and Heart of Christ” in schools, being “At the Service of the Family for Life” through health and eldercare and “Fostering a Deeper Spiritual Life” through individual and group retreats. At the heart of our vocation is a passionate mission of loving service which facilitates our life-giving encounter with the living God.

The heritage of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles is rooted in the spirituality of Carmel, the Gospels, the Church, with our particular charism derived from our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

In His merciful goodness, God has graced our Institute with the Carmelite charism which has its roots in a long history and living tradition. The spirituality of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross is rooted in this tradition. Carmel means enclosed garden in which God Himself dwells. The divine indwelling in the soul is the foundation of Teresa's doctrine. Thus our vocation is a grace by which contemplation and action are blended to become an apostolic service to the Church.

Our ideal finds a living expression in the life and charism of our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament, whose spirit we faithfully preserve and foster.

Our life is characterized by: - A life of prayer and union with God - A deep love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist - Devotion to our Blessed Mother - Steadfast fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church - Praying for priests - Commitment to works of the apostolate in ecclesial service

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