You’re Dead. Now What? A Catholic Catechesis On The Afterlife

by Faith & Life

Outside da Box releases a video dealing with the afterlife. While it’s not a very popular subject– that is when it isn’t being ridiculed  or reduced to a simply sentimental matter– how we understand the event called death and what follows after it is extremely important for how we live our lives here and now. What happens after we die?  What do Catholics mean when we speak of particular and final judgement? And what do we refer to when we talk of Purgatory, Hell, and Heaven?

You’re Dead. Now What?

A Deeper Look At The Afterlife

Death came early on in my life. I was seven when one of my sisters died, and sixteen when my father passed away, and many others in between and afterward. On the day they were buried, Jesus Christ on the cross – as at the beginning and end of Mass – led the procession to the cemetery. This funeral ritual represents the singular reality that Saint Paul proclaimed so boldly, “Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”[2] In Baptism then, we, who were baptized as infants, as a matter of fact, experienced death at the very beginning of our Christian lives. Though not just any kind of death… But the meaningful one! Because it is the death of Jesus Christ, the death that is victorious over death, the death that leads to new and eternal life.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our participation in the dying and rising of Jesus Christ opens us to adoptive filiation to God, the Father of Jesus. For Jesus to teach his disciples to call God, his Father as our Father[3] invites us to open ourselves to the reality that we did not begin to exist by chance but according to the deliberate plan of the Father who gave birth to us, who alone can create us. Therefore, to call God our Father is to recognize that we have a purposeful beginning. And for Jesus to teach his disciples to be obedient to the will of the Father, that it may be done on earth as in heaven[4], invites us to open ourselves to the reality that we are not to arbitrarily live our lives but are called to bring to definitive fulfillment God’s kingdom on earth as it is already in heaven. Therefore, to do the will of the Father is to recognize that we have a meaningful end.

Beginning, End and the In-Between

I recently did a segment of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the Camino de San Salvador. This segment begins in Leon and ends in Oviedo. The beginning and the end clearly determined for me the trail for the following six days. On these six days, there was sun, and rain, and wind, and snow. Though the weather added to the drama of the pilgrimage, the real essence of the walk was really to be clear about its beginning and its end and to remain on the trail in between. Jesus introduced us, his disciples, to our clear beginning and end who is God. Jesus himself is the trail, the way.[5]These realities call us to ever reflect on the meaning and the purpose of our Christian existence. This we may do by reflecting on the following questions:

  • How do I remind myself that I come from and that I am called to return to God?
  • In what ways to I prepare myself for the inevitability of death?
  • Do I yearn for heaven? Do I live my life now as though eternity has already begun?
  • How do I allow Jesus Christ to set before me the way that I must walk and follow?

  Fr. Edison

[1] The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides a concise presentation on the doctrine of heaven, purgatory and hell in its Article 12. Follow the link to access the article: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P2K.HTM.
[2] Romans 6:3-4, NAB.
[3] Matthew 6:9.
[4] Matthew 6:10.
[5] John 14:6.

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