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The afterlife

Posted By September 15, 2011 | 10:21 am | Spiritual
CATOIR, FR. JOHN-- CNS COLUMNIST1996 PHOTO

The afterlife
By Father John Catoir
Catholic News Service

“Although doubts and denials seem to be on the increase in certain parts of the world, this ‘disquiet’ cannot be ignored.”

So says theologian Sister Joan Hush, 79, who spent many years as a Dominican contemplative and is now living her vowed life as a Dominican associate in a reclusive setting.

Sister Hush says that, to believe in Christianity is to believe in eternal life with the risen Lord. If there is no resurrection, the whole structure of faith collapses.

The Nicene Creed puts it succinctly: “I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.” (Note the double orientation: a personal resurrection set within the ambient of a ‘world’ to come.)

What will the world to come be like?

Faith gives us permission to use our imagination. We are destined to live forever in a new order of life, for “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, (is) what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9-10).

Eternal life is certain for those who trust God’s word.

Trust leads to hope, and hope gives us the energy to reach out to God for eternal life.

On May 17, 1879, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a letter concerning belief in an afterlife. The document notes that, “when setting forth this teaching, it is not permissible to remove any point … without endangering the faith and salvation of Christians.”

It recalls the essential elements of our faith in the afterlife, noting that the church:

— Professes belief in the resurrection of the dead, as referring to the whole person, as an extension of Christ’s own resurrection. This means that a spiritual element, namely the soul, which is endowed with consciousness and will, survives the body after death.

— Rejects anything that would render meaningless or unintelligible her prayers, funeral rituals, etc. Catholics await “the glorious manifestation of our Lord, Jesus Christ” (“Dei Verbum”), a manifestation that differs from our personal encounter with him at the moment of our death.

— Rejects any ideas contrary to the Virgin Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven and the church’s “anticipation of the glorification” destined for the elect.

— Believes in the final beatitude (heaven) or punishment (purgatory and hell): “There will be eternal punishment for the sinner, who will be deprived of the sight of God, and that this punishment will have a repercussion on the whole being of the sinner.”

As Christians, we are bound to:

(1) Belief “in the fundamental continuity, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, between our present life in Christ and the future life (charity is the law of the kingdom of God and our charity on earth will be the measure of our sharing in God’s glory in heaven).”

(2) Belief in “the radical break between this present life and the future one” since “the economy of faith will be replaced by the economy of the fullness of life: We shall be with Christ and ‘we shall see God.'”

All of this is an immense mystery! Neither Scripture nor theology can provide us with a clear idea of exactly what the afterlife will be like; nevertheless, through faith, we know that it is a reality that awaits us.

Primitive man believed in an afterlife. The science of anthropology and archaeology provide us with abundant evidence that the ancients buried their dead with tools and food to help them in the next life.

We live by faith, not science. Nevertheless, we have both to reassure us.