Monday, November 12, 2018 - Updated: 11:30 am
QUESTION: Having just lost a loved one, I am particularly interested in the afterlife. I know there are a lot of opinions out there, but I am interested in what is found in Scripture and what the Catholic Church teaches.
ANSWER: Most people have questions about life after death. In 1979, the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document titled “Letter on Certain Questions Concerning Eschatology.” In that document, the congregation reminded us: “Neither the Scriptures nor theology provides sufficient light for a proper picture of life after death.”
What Scripture says, however, is an important starting point. In the Bible, heaven is described as a great banquet, a never-ending wedding feast or a large house with many rooms.
The obvious reason why descriptions of heaven are so difficult to offer is that there are few who have seen heaven and come back to describe it in detail. In fact, Scripture says: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Besides that, heaven is in eternity and we live in time. Think how difficult it would be to describe everyday life without reference to such things as clocks, seasons, night or day.
Nonetheless, there are fundamental principles upon which our Catholic understanding rests. These are carefully outlined in the Roman document mentioned above. Among these are: a belief in the resurrection of the dead; an understanding of the Resurrection as referring to the whole person; the survival after death of a “spiritual element” (soul) in which subsists the “human self;” and the expectation of the glorious manifestation of the Lord Jesus (as distinct from what occurs to each individual following death).
In addition, we should understand that heaven will be a fundamental continuity between our life lived with Christ here on earth and that lived with Christ in heaven. However, we must also be aware that there is a distinct difference between life here and life in heaven. Here we live by faith; there we shall “see” God.
Having said these things, there is no reason to doubt that heaven will be a wonderful existence where we will enjoy the real and personal presence of God. When we talk about spending time with our best friend we talk about feeling secure, understood, appreciated and loved. When most people think of heaven they think of just that — being in the presence of God and feeling the fulfillment of our human longings.
Heaven also entails being united with those we love. One of the most difficult human experiences is the loss of loved ones through death. Despite our faith and the hope it offers, we feel the pain of seeing those we love go beyond us into an existence about which we know so little. Heaven then is the reunion with those loved ones in a common experience that will last forever. While understanding the difference between earthly experience in time and heaven as eternity, we should be assured that heaven will include a fullness of the good that we only begin to experience here in this life.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.