Thought for the Month
What happens after we die?
Recently someone pointed out to me that, according to a statistic, about 52% of the UK population declare themselves to be without any faith. I couldn’t stop wondering why so many of my brothers and sisters seem to have lost interest in something that is so dear to me.
November for we Catholics is the month dedicated to our dear ones who have passed to eternal life, so that we don’t forget to pray for them. But not just that. It is the time when we are encouraged to think about the true meaning of life.
What is life? What do we live for? Where is life coming from?
Is there anything after death? So, apart from praying for our dear ones who have passed to eternal life, the month of November is a month to refocus our attention on the things that are most important. That treasure that no one can take away from us, not even death.
While I was living this November time with the Church someone presented to me the statistic that I started with, and I could see some sort of connection. Generally, when we talk about the afterlife, we are still using the terminology and imaging which we used a long time ago. This terminology and imaging was developed in a time when most of the population was illiterate and of little education.
Today it’s totally a different story, and if the way we used to speak about heaven and the reality of the things to come might be still adequate for children (not always), it is not adequate for adults. Who knows why for many of us when we talk about heaven it seems like a fairy tale we used to read as children? Maybe simply because of the way it was presented to us.
The most basic question of all is; what is the meaning of life? Scientists can tell us how life developed along the millions of years but no human study can give me an answer to why am I living, or what is the purpose of my life. Am I just a mere coincidence, one moment here the next gone for ever? In this case, if we eliminate God and his love as the reason of our existence, we would be condemning ourselves to this horrible answer. One might say that the fact that this answer is a negative one does not mean that it’s not the truth. That’s true, so how do we know that it’s not the truth? My simple answer is because I believe in Jesus, I trust Him, I am sure he told us the truth. In life we have to take a risk. We can risk on what some scientists say or what someone else says no matter who that person is, I can risk on my own opinion, but I choose to take a risk on the Word of Jesus.
My parents could have desired a baby about 48 years ago, but there is no way they could have desired me. I did not exist and they did not know me. Only One knew me before I was formed in my mother’s womb, only He wanted me to be simply because He loved me. Yes, for me life has only one meaning: life is a selfless gift of a loving God; life is a journey towards perfect unity with this loving God, and life will reach its climax when we are united with Him for ever.
That’s why we were created.
What is heaven then? If we are talking about the afterlife, then we are in the realm of the spirit (we believe in the resurrection of the body, but our body will be glorified; this means that our body will not follow anymore the laws of physics but will now follow the rules of a spirit) and so the rules that apply for matter do not apply anymore. This means we cannot think in the terms of space and time anymore. I believe that heaven is life after death, when, unlike this life, everything is certain, no doubts anymore, everything is clear as crystal. Above all the clearest thing would be that God is all that is beautiful, all that is truth, all that is love, all that we can desire, all that is life and heaven is the certainty that now we are in his loving embrace for ever. There we would lack nothing; there is no more suffering, sickness, the evil of this world, there is no death anymore.
Heaven though is not just God embracing us for ever, but we must embrace him forever too. We are free human beings and God does not impose on us anything, not even heaven.
Sometimes I will meet a worker with dirty hands and when I offer my hand for a handshake, he would start trying to clean his hands the best he can. How can I embrace God if I feel that I am stained by sin?
We talk about God’s judgement after death. It is not God that makes the judgement, we will make our own judgement.
If we have tried our best to live a good life but still failed and maybe sometimes a lot, can we imagine how we would feel when immediately after death we would realise how much He had loved us and how ungrateful we have been? We Catholics call this purification after death purgatory.
Purgatory is that state after life when we realize with perfect clarity the infinity of God’s love towards us and at the same time how tepid, maybe even negative was our response to this love; this is the moment when we feel most powerfully the salvation of Jesus, we realize that in Him and because of Him only, we can embrace God for ever.
What is Hell? Hell is the realisation without any doubt that God is all that is beautiful, all that is truth, all that is love, all that we can desire, all that is life and that one had made a fundamental decision in life against Him and this means we have lost Him for ever. Imagine two magnets when one puts the two negatives or two positives near each other there is a repulsion. The same thing would happen to him who in life takes a decision against God and love. In the immediate moment after death instead of feeling the need to embrace God for ever he would feel that repulsion from Him for ever.
Do you find this scary? Not for those who are honest with themselves, with God and with others. God sees the heart and surely, He would be gained by all those who seek him with a sincere heart, even those who never actually find him in this life.
Fr Edward Vella
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