Grandes questions Life After Death

SUMMARY.

Introduction.
1 - How can there be something after death? If the body is dead, how can a part of us remain?
2 - The objections of the 'materialists' and those who believe that there is nothing after death.
3 - Fears and Obstacles in the Mind of Atheists: In the human heart, isn't there a secret fear of the mystery of God and of eternity?
4 - Is reincarnation not also a life after death? Is it possible to have several successive lives?
5 - What is eternal life? How will we experience it? What relationship can we have with those who are in heaven?
6 - What can we do for those who are dead?

“He will wipe away all tears from their eyes,
there will be no more death
and no more mourning and sadness.
The world of the past has gone.”

The Book of Revelation, chapter 21, verse 4


INTRODUCTION.

Is there life after death? This is a question that everyone asks. Maybe not today…but we will inevitably ask it one day. Perhaps tomorrow, because of someone we know, or because of a friend who is dying. For us, also, the time will come.

Some say: “Maybe there is something, I’ll see when I get there. Why worry about it now?”

Others spend their entire life preparing for eternity because they consider it so important.

Undoubtedly, all of us are repulsed at the thought of death, because we are made for life. And it is so important to clarify what we can know about life after death.

Whom should we believe? From among the diverse theories that exist on this subject, which one should we adhere to? The materialists and 'atheists', say: "It is all over at death, only the earth continues to spin." The believers in reincarnation say: "There are several successive lives until we become the Great All and we no longer breathe life (nirvana)."

Jews, Muslims and Christians all believe that after this life there is a life of happiness with God. Christians say specifically that we will resurrect with our body, like Jesus Christ

This brochure gives a clear summary of these questions and the answers that we offer.

Jesus says:
“As for the resurrection of the dead, have you never read what God himself said to you :
'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob'
God is God, not of the dead, but of the living.”

(Gospel according to Saint Matthew, chapter 22 : 31 &  33)

1 - How can there be something after death? If the body is dead, how can a part of us remain?

The first question is to know how we can continue to live if our body is dead and remains buried in the ground. Soon this same body will disappear; all of its elements will be diffused into the ground or in the air.

Several books, written over the past few years, speak of experiences of 'life after death' or 'near death experiences' (NDE). American doctors have even published theses or hypotheses on this very subject. The testimonies given in these books, tell of patients, often post-operation, who had been in very critical condition and were then declared biologically dead. But, after some time, they came back to life. They were questioned and described what they had experienced during the time they seemed dead. Surprisingly, a strong similarity between testimonies was observed.

In general, these persons experienced an existence while 'outside of their body' which they were able to observe as a spectator. Most of these persons had an encounter with a luminous and merciful being. The description of this being varies from testimony to testimony, but it is generally more vague with people who were non-believers or 'lukewarm' believers. Nonetheless, the common element in all the testimonies is the encounter with a merciful judgement and with goodness.

Apart from the fact that these testimonies may be interesting, we must recognize that they all concern an experience of 'the threshold between life and death'. All the people concerned resumed their daily life afterwards, and this is why they can tell us about their experience. The mysterious Being whom they encountered, 'gave them a warning, perhaps, a question, a new chance, or an encouragement to live a better life. In all counts, they continued the same life that they had among us before their experience.'

There is, however, a conclusion we can draw from these testimonies: that at the extreme limits of bodily life, we become more aware that our body is not all of us, and that a precise element of our being is capable of posing questions about its body, its life and its destiny. Is this the soul?

Here is an essential question. Contrary to what materialists think, we will see why our 'material, biological' existence cannot express all of our being. It is illogical to limit our life to the biological realm when, at a deeper level, we find our truest aspirations and our sense of an ultimate destiny. This is not so difficult to understand. Let us look at an example :

A man can love a woman with his body. It is not true, however, that it is only with his body that he can love her. Those who limit love to the body are mistaken. True love goes further and deeper. And it lasts. To love in truth is to love not only with our body but also with all our heart and all the strength of the soul. It means loving another for himself. It is wanting his/her happiness more than anything else. It is to forget oneself for the sake of the beloved and to love for ever.

Yes, “love is stronger than death” (From the book “Song of Songs” in the Bible) and love calls us beyond death.

Happiness, too! Man is made for happiness. How could we be unhappy if we had no idea of what happiness is or a longing for it. When we seek happiness, what is it that we are seeking? Not simply that the circumstance which made us happy may continue, but rather, we want to have unending happiness, regardless of how we might have come upon it in the first place. There is, therefore, something in us that goes beyond the body, something that is made to desire unending happiness. This is what Christians - and many others - call the soul.

Death is an obstacle. We are made to be happy and desire a happiness that is eternal and that does not cease at death. We all desire this lasting happiness, for ourselves and for those we love, because we have a soul. We are not satisfied with death, but have a natural, irrepressible desire for eternity. The soul is not made to disappear into the earth.

2 - The objections of the 'materialists' and those who believe that there is nothing after death.

There are objective reasons for arguing that our life ends at death which are open to debate and discussion. Other objections spring from inner reactions, hurts and fears varying from person to person. We are not always conscious of them, but we can allow them to heal when they are brought to light. The materialists' main objection is simple: they declare that nothing exists outside the physical world (physio-chemical), that can be measured and observed by the senses. Surprisingly, they believe this, in the same way that others believe in God!

This objection strives to be 'scientific' and it was the opinion of the "scientist philosophers".

During the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, these scientists said they believed only in science and impressed less-educated people with their exaltation of science. They were convinced that the scientific method would ultimately explain everything. They rejected, as irrational, all other sources of knowledge, learning or wisdom. Outside of science, everything else was gibberish. It is like a Greek professor saying that anything not written in Greek characters has no meaning. Thus they conclude that the soul, unable to be measured or put into an equation, does not exist.

These materialistic theories are called 'reductionism' because they reduce man to quantities, calculations, chemical reactions and physiological schemes.

Thought, love, life are reduced to being the ‘superstructure’ of psycho-chemical reactions.

With this, these so-called scientist philosophers were, no less than others, susceptible to 'anti-scientific' prejudices to protect their theories. Thus, the adversaries of the great Pasteur, the scientist who discovered bacteria and the vaccine, believed in spontaneous generation. Why? Not for true scientific reasons but out of atheism. They thought: "If there is not spontaneous generation of animals from the environment where they are usually found, we will have to believe in Creation and in the Creator."

Pasteur, on the other hand, who was so demanding in scientific matters, believed in the existence of the soul and eternity. He thanked God for his discoveries (for example, in his speech at the inauguration of the Pasteur Institute). He wrote, on the death of one of his children, a most beautiful declaration of hope that they would see each other again in eternity.

This question is outside the sphere of chemistry, astronomy and physics. My child is dead: Will he always be dead? For ever? Or will he be able to take part in a real happiness in a place where I will be able to see him again? And where I can see his smile again? Are God's promises so absurd?

"He has sought to please God, so God has loved him; as he was living among sinners, he has been taken up…
Coming to perfection in so short a while, he achieved long life; his soul being pleasing to the Lord, he has taken him quickly from the wickedness around him…
But the virtuous live for ever, their recompense lies with the Lord."

(Bible, Book of Wisdom, chapter 4, verses10 &13 and chapter 5, verse 15)

3 - Fears and Obstacles in the Mind of Atheists: In the human heart, isn't there a secret fear of the mystery of God and of eternity?

Many of our atheist friends, or persons who say that there is nothing after death, have objections of quite a different nature than saying : "Nothing exists outside of the physical sciences". Their difficulties in believing in the life of the soul and an eternity in heaven are of a personal nature. Their questions touch upon freedom, morals, justice, love for others and their own personal history.

We want to show that these are real questions but that, often, because of someone's personal history, they are posed in a wrong fashion. And so we cannot find the right answer; we reject it instantly because we are afraid of it. We do not want to listen, fearing that we would hear something that would hurt us: we plug our ears! If only we would listen to the true answer: what joy it would bring, and what liberation!

There are atheists who cannot accept the idea that there is eternal life, I have known some very well, because their father, mother, friend, spouse…died apparently as an unbeliever. Then they say: "This person was loved and admired but, because he or she didn't believe, they cannot go to heaven with God, if there is a God." Or they may say: "This person did things that do not conform to what I imagine to be the morals desired by God. I prefer that there not be a God at all, nor eternal life, because this person would be excluded and that is too sad for me to bear."

To all of these opinions the Gospel (the 'Good News' of Jesus Christ) answers:

“For men, this is impossible; for God, everything is possible.”
(Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 19, verse 26)

“God wants everyone to be saved.”
(St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy, chapter 2, verse 4)

"God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but so that through him the world might be saved."

(Gospel according to St. John, chapter 3, verses 16 and 17)

We can therefore believe with certitude that God is a God of goodness and mercy. To those who, in good faith, simply do not know Him, He is ready to open the doors of salvation. Above all, God looks at their honesty. It suffices that from the depth of their heart, they say 'yes' to his mercy. This is shown in the Gospel when Jesus is dying on the cross at the same time as a thief being crucified at his right and another at his left. One of them turns to Jesus and pities Him, saying :

"In our case, we deserve it, we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he adds: "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus replied :

“Indeed, I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

This is what we can ask God for a loved one who died seemingly without knowing God : like the good thief, may he be touched by the innocence of God at the moment of their meeting, and may he ask then that Jesus Christ remember him in His kingdom. God, for whom nothing is impossible, will make our friend capable of entering Paradise with Him.

At the moment of death, the ultimate face to face which we cannot witness, God, who is all-loving, reveals Himself in a special way as love and mercy. Then all the fears a person may have about God and the false images of God, disappear like clouds blown away in a storm. Love, the true face of God in Christ, appears like it did to the good thief. Only a 'yes' needs to be said to the love of God : He will do the rest.

We, the living, are perhaps afraid of God precisely because we have a false image of Him. It might be, for instance, a conflict regarding morality. Must I abandon this thing that I love today for some future happiness that I am not convinced of? Does God want to force strict things on me to show that he has power over me? Is He truly an enemy of my happiness? Does He want to make me a slave? The answer is the same one as quoted above :

"If God gave his Son so that I might have eternal life, if He loves me even though I do not know Him or love Him or even if I fight against Him; if He loves me this much, why should I be afraid that He wants something other than my happiness?"

We may have difficulties understanding this. Why not ask Him, out of the love He declares for us, to clear up our difficulties?

The God revealed in Jesus Christ does not force His love on me. He came to us as a child at Christmas, weak and powerless. Certainly He does not want to crush us. He does not impose this love, but He offers it to us, and begs that we accept it. He desires only a freely-given response from me.

Even if I do not understand everything right away, I can begin to look at Him differently. Little by little, the confused images that I had of God will be dispelled from my spirit. He does not want to put a stop to my happiness in this life. He will show me the path to happiness that goes much further and satisfies me completely. It is a happiness that fulfills the deepest desires of my being.

Then I will be able to discover this God of love and accept his extraordinary promises. When healed of my deepest hurts and when I have received new freedom and joy, I will want to say 'yes' to Him and love Him with all my heart and soul. I will lay at his feet all my worries and everything else which may be going wrong. With joy will I receive His forgiveness, which will renew me completely. I will have new hope and an awareness of the love that makes me ready to make changes in my life.

4 - Is reincarnation not also a life after death? Is it possible to have several successive lives?

Nowadays, many people say that they believe in reincarnation. Often we do not really know what it is but it impresses us as a more modern way of thinking.

Why are some people fascinated by the idea of reincarnation? What value does it have?

There are two underlying motives in this attraction to reincarnation.

1 - It is obvious to me that my inner life is not made to end. Nothingness repulses me. Somehow, my life, my being, must endure beyond death, in some other form of life. With the word, reincarnation, we are actually seeking eternity. But is the theory of reincarnation the right answer; is it the road leading to true happiness?

2 - People sense that they cannot go to Paradise the way they are. We are conscious of our need to be purified. One time or another were we not, to some degree, accomplices of evil in the world because of an evil act we engaged in?

The doctrines of reincarnation suggests that from life to life (relived on earth) we are being purified and getting rid of the evil that clings to us. This idea is profound and commendable. But, is the solution it offers a valid one?

Reincarnation is not eternal life.

(The concept that the soul moves from body to body reduces the body to being nothing more than a temporary prison. In fact, the body is the soul's ID card. The soul comes into existence with its body which gives it a form for living its spiritual life. We are a unique person with a unique soul, a unique body, a unique history and a unique eternity.)

Whatever the particular theory of reincarnation ascribed to (Eastern doctrines, New Age, Buddhism of the little vehicle or great vehicle), it is not truly eternal life. It is an adding on of small lives which are always subjected to the limits of the present life, until, all of a sudden, there is no life at all: the state of 'nirvana'.

The happiness offered at the end of the journey seems a strange happiness indeed! If we acknowledge the etymology of the word nirvana, the ultimate state after reincarnation, is an absence of breath and of respiration.

The purification by successive lives consists of detaching oneself from the desires for material goods, power, feelings, relationships with others and friendship. Then there is the detachment from life itself - a state in which one no longer thinks or breaths. Finally, one blends into the universe, the great all. We do not move, think or love. We no longer have an identity or personality.

Is this the happiness to which we aspire: to be blended into everything and no longer ourselves?

On the contrary, in the Resurrection, we will live as ourselves for ever. We will be in the company of a living God and with all those who live with Him in the love and happiness that He gives. We will be able to talk with Him. We will continue to love those who are on earth and to pray for them, that they might have this same happiness.

The problems of purification by Reincarnation.

The other aspect of reincarnation is the type of purification offered: by successive lives, we either climb up or go down the ladder which leads us from evil - matter - goodness - to the immaterial and impersonal ALL.

Thus, life risks losing much of its own value: on one side, we push off problems to a later moment, saying to ourselves that in another hypothetical life we will do better. This is irresponsible, because life is not taken seriously. "If I don't manage to do the good right now, then I will make up for it in another life."

And if it were true? Why not seek the happiness of eternal life right now? What is this strange enemy of man and of the greatness of his destiny that administers this sort of anaesthesia on him? Does it not take away the meaning and value of his life? Must he always repeat his year?

Sometimes we fail to see the damage caused by this doctrine: if, in my life today, I am carrying the weight of the mistakes of a former life, I pay for a life that I do not even remember. In that life, I had a body of another person or an animal. This is a heavy guilt to bear on my shoulders and an immense effort imposed on me! I'll need dozens of lives to climb back up the ladder.

Isn't there somebody who can help me? How can I become good and stop this fatal cycle?

The promises of the living God are totally different. Yes, God our Father wants us to be good and perfect. But, He knows our weaknesses : God is love and forgiveness. He does not force life after life on us. He sends his Son to forgive and purify us. He, the source of all goodness, makes goodness accessible to us. He gives us His own life and His own goodness. By His mercy, we are drawn away from evil and imperfection and given access to a true life.

God respects our freedom and He takes it seriously. He gave it to us so that we may love. If we, freely, say 'yes' to his outstretched hand; if we say 'yes', to his love, it will be to enter into life for ever.

5 - What is eternal life? How will we experience it? What relationship can we have with those who are in heaven?

Sometimes we imagine that life after death is like the cemetery : a long, monotonous sleep.

One day a five year old asked : "Does everyone in heaven live in bed?" He asked this because he had understood that his bedridden, sickly aunt had died and gone to heaven. His parents explained that in heaven there is neither sickness nor death and that we are more alive than before.

Saint Theresa of Lisieux said on her death bed : "I am entering into life." She also promised : "I will spend my heaven doing good on earth." Innumerable people who have prayed to her over these past 100 years (she died in 1897) can testify that this is true.

At this point, I would like to share a personal story. My wife and I lost our little boy, Dominic, when he was six years old. My father, his grandfather, was very sad. A few days after the accident, he was awake at night overcome by his sorrow, and he was crying. Suddenly, he heard a tiny voice saying: "Do not cry, Grandpa." He fell back asleep and a second time he awoke crying. The same small voice, which he now recognized as Dominic's, comforted him. A third time this happened and the voice said : "Do not cry, Grandpa. If you only knew how happy I am." At that moment, all his sorrow disappeared.

Sometimes, with God's permission, a loved one who has died makes us feel his or her presence or intercession for us before God. Those who are in God's presence are not inactive. They are alive just as God is Alive. They unceasingly contemplate God's face, and they marvel at it. And they pray constantly for those who are living here on earth. It is like a strong support chain. Because they are with God and have their hearts turned towards God, they receive from Him, out of love, the possibility of praying for us: asking on our behalf for light and help from God. At times they show us a sign, by the grace of God, to guide us towards the path of Life, towards Jesus Christ, who is "the way, the truth and the life".

We will, by no means, begin questioning the dead, using them to turn us away from God and from heaven, to practise, for example, divination or prediction. This type of contact with the dead to 'use their spirit' is a form of idolatrous worship, that is a turning away from the true God. It is also called necromancy, spiritism, etc…. And it is dangerous. It can distort our qualities and abilities and lead us to do regrettable and even evil things.

On the other hand, for those who are with God, everything that was beautiful and good in their feelings and capacities while on earth, is transfigured and intensified in the divine life. What was not good is purified and transformed into good. They love all those they have known with a perfect love. Like God, they want their happiness and ask God, in prayer, to give those who they know on earth the same happiness into which they have entered.

Our bodies will be resurrected.

The fullness of life is promised for those who have died. In the Gospel, Jesus announces the resurrection of the body :
"I am the Resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, even if he dies, will live and he who believes in me will never die."

(Gospel according to St. John, chapter 11, verses 25 & 26.)

Christ is resurrected with his body. His disciples saw the wounds on his hands and feet and side. He ate and drank with them. But He did not resume his earthly life. He is resurrected with his body into glory. For 2000 years, Christians have testified to this.

We, too, at the end of time, will be resurrected with a transfigured and glorified body.

St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 15, verses 35 to 53), explains that it will be the same body - the same person - but, as a seed that grows is indeed the same life as the plant which it becomes, our body, reunited with our soul, will no longer live the life on earth, but it will be transfigured to live in the Life of God, which is called 'Heaven'.

"If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you."
(St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verse 11.)

There is no disintegration into the universe; into the great all, as proclaim reincarnationists, because they do not know the promises of God. God gives us a perfect life anew and in it, we are the same person with the same identity. We are truly partners of God, invited to his table as to a banquet. He will wipe away all the tears from our eyes as it is says in the Book of Revelation in the Bible.

We can begin to live this eternal life, to a certain extent, right away. Because God makes himself known in this life. This is why we can discover Him, listen to Him and welcome Him. How? By reading the Gospel, the Word of God, by the life of the 'sacraments' : Baptism, by which we are born into divine life.

In the Eucharist, or mass, we receive God in the blessed host. God wants to nourish us with His own life and with the vivifying love of his Holy Spirit. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we ask for forgiveness for our faults and our 'sins' against the love of God and others. God, through the priest, gives us his forgiveness and purifies us. There are also the Sacraments of the Sick, of Matrimony, and of Holy Orders for priests.

Even now, in our present life, prayer gives us the means of welcoming eternal life. If we give Him some of our precious time, God will come and dwell in our heart and dispose us to receive gifts from above.

We find our marriage transformed: we love with a renewed love. Our relationships with others change: we look at others differently, with an attitude of love and hope. This is love : God comes to us and it is we who do the works of love.

We experience joy because we now have hope.

"You made us for Youself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

St. Augustine.

6 - What can we do for those who are dead?

In the Creed, the summary of the faith of Christians for the past 2000 years, we say: "I believe in the communion of saints." This means that there is a tremendous relationship between those who are in Heaven with God, 'the saints', and us, who are living on earth.

The 'saints' are not only those declared saints by the Church and canonized-the saints on the liturgical calendar. The saints are also all those who died saying 'yes' to the love of God, and, who, after a time of purification, live with Him.

For to enter into the fire of love, we need to be burning with love. This is why, if we need 'warming-up', this purification takes place in what is called 'Purgatory'. Our prayers for those in purgatory can speed up their walk towards love. Time does not count for God. If we think of a deceased loved one today, and if we pray for him or her, God has already heard our prayer.

The best prayer is to offer a mass for the deceased person and to attend it, if at all possible. But all our poor words have a major impact for our beloved dead: they touch the Heart of God.

Father, accept this offering from your whole family. Grant us peace in this life, same us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen.

(Prayer at mass)

It is important to pray a lot for the dying. Because death is the moment that we answer yes or no to love.

A short prayer to the Virgin Mary.

Hail Mary, full of grace!
The Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.

Does Hell exist? Yes. In the Gospel, Jesus warns us, specifically, in the parable about the beggar Lazarus and the cruel rich man. Jesus speaks about it again in the parable of the final judgement.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us : "We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love Him." The words of Christ are serious :

"He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."
(First Letter of St. John, chapter 3, verse 14 & 15)

Jesus speaks of ‘Hell’ and of the 'unquenchable fire'.
(Gospel according to St. Mark, chapter 9, verses 43 &  48)

Jesus announces that he "will send his angels who will gather up the makers of evil and throw them into the burning inferno". Hell truly exists and the Church only repeats what Jesus himself said on the matter. Why? The Love of God warns us of the tragedy of missing out on love, of missing out on Heaven and eternal life. It is a call to responsibility with which man can utilize his freedom to choose his eternal destiny. It is a call to conversion.

Hell is not God's rejection of us. God predestines no one to go there, as the Jansenists wrongly believed. To go to hell, we must freely refuse God and persist in refusing Him right until the end of our life. We must refuse His mercy.

God wants every person to be saved. By sincerely asking for his forgiveness, we receive it. We only have to remember the story of the Good Thief.

"The Lord is not slow about his promise... not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."

(Second letter of Peter, chapter 3, verse 9.)

We can therefore hope that all our beloved deceased will have asked for this mercy of God, and we can pray for this. God Himself inspires us to pray for them and He wants to be convinced by our appeal for His mercy.

Our hope, their hope, is Heaven. Thanks to the mercy of God, we have the firm hope that we all will meet again in Heaven with God.

"Here God lives among men. He will make his home among them; they shall be his people, and he will be their God; his name is God-with-them.
He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone."

(The Book of Revelation, chapter 21, verses 3 & 4.)


By Father Yves de Boisredon
and
Herve-Marie Catta