Whatever Next

This post, despite its title, will not be about the blog, although I’m delighted that Todd is planning to switch to WordPress if it means that we can better archive our posts, although the move will probably make my disturbing level of computer illiteracy more evident during the next several weeks. This post is about the afterlife. For this Sunday’s “Credo” column, the editors of the Times asked a few religious leaders about life everlasting.

Monsignor Roderick Strange, rector of the Pontifical Beda College in Rome, reminds us that “the next chapter of our existence is not chained to duration,” and we may even “glimpse even within our time-bound experience traces of what life beyond time might be like.” He begins with a vivid description of an ordeal that – as traumatic as it had to be have been – lasted only ten minutes. And, then:

A happier story can be told more briefly.

Visiting once a man whose wife had died, I heard about the time he had realised he loved her. They had known each other for years in a group of friends. One evening, after dinner out, the others drifted off and they were left alone. Without warning the conversation plunged to another level and they became completely absorbed in each other, talking on and on. By the end they recognised a bond of love between them that was indestructible. And so it had proved. “But then,” he said, “I glanced at my watch and realised we’d been talking for less than an hour.”

In both cases the intensity of the experience, one of misery, the other delight, had made a little time seem long.

Now take that farther, beyond the ultimate. Beyond time we slip the chains of duration. Our relationships are realised perfectly. We may, of course, choose that state of isolated misery we call Hell. But those who choose otherwise are in Paradise, loving God and in God, embracing everyone and rejoicing in those who are dearest to them.

The Right Reverend Alan D. McDonald, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, contributed a meditation that included the following (I’ve italicized two statements that struck me as being important):

A preoccupation with the logistics of the afterlife is unattractive and occasionally dangerous. The Gospel of John (xiv, 2) is succinct and liberating: “In My Father’s house are many mansions.” Reinhold Niebuhr interpreted it beautifully when he said it was unwise “to claim any knowledge of either the furniture of Heaven or the temperature of Hell”.

Belief in the afterlife encourages us to live now, and to live for others now. It means not living under a pressure to please but rather out of the environment of generosity where the gifts are such as unite rather than creating a climate of competition. There is nothing “automatic” about life after death. Eternal life is a gift from God, as are the blessings that surround us. Life after death begins here and now with the corollary of the offer of healing and peace made to all humankind in Christ. For this reason, the Church sees its mission as the tireless pursuit of reconciliation in the world and justice for all humankind.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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