“I continue to think that we start from very different places on the question of death itself, what it is and what, if anything comes after it…I have trouble getting myself to the point where I believe that anything happens to the individual after death. I can’t get beyond, once you are dead you are dead and that is the end of it.” November’s the month of the dead-why should we care?
This was Jeff’s reply to my renewed emphatic urging that he just ask Jesus if he’s real….just speak the words.
Over the last couple of decades, my friend-since-childhood Jeff and I have had countless online conversations about God. And all related topics like faith, religion and what Jeff terms his “secular humanism.” Of late, he’s had a few serious medical events and so I’ve asked him to risk a conversation with Jesus—said with a bit more detail.
Jeff and I grew up together. We were in the same classes from kindergarten through high school and even the same confirmation class at our parents’ church, St. John’s Episcopal church in Sharon, Massachusetts.
Within four years, I was an atheist. Sometime during his year in Viet Nam, college or graduate school, Jeff decided he was a secular humanist. Our lives diverged for years. But then, we reconnected because of a textbook I’d published. One that my very proud Dad showed his father. Ever since, we’ve corresponded fairly consistently.
Frequently, our virtual conversations plunge into areas most avoid: religion and politics. My conversion—more accurately, my deep dive, into Catholicism has caused extensive discussion between us over the years.
Jeff’s reply to my request takes care of the problems of purgatory and hell quite neatly—if there’s nothing after death then
“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”
Well, if you agree with Jeff, there’s no reason to. It’s actually a waste of time. One which our friend St. Paul makes clear.
“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, …And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied…But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…”
For centuries, the fact that we humans are both body and soul was truth. No longer.
Until Jeff and I entered into this latest conversation, I’d no clue that the existence of the human soul is being debunked by “science.” But in a climate where murdering ourselves and our babies are “rights” and “healthcare” while a sitting President insists that mutilating kids is legitimate and moral, we can’t be surprised.
We know the origin of stunningly stupid claims like “our minds create the universe.” And of these purely evil laws which use a phrase like “abortion sanctuary” as if that’s even possible. And of euthansia of children and the mentally ill.
This isn’t from people, politicians or governments.
No, this is Satan and his legions escalating their attempt to destroy humanity.
All Saints Day and All Souls Day respectively. November’s the month of the dead. Tuesday we celebrated our friends in heaven and Wednesday, those in purgatory. Our Mass was held outside, in the cemetery. It was beautiful, sacred and fitting. But to another, perhaps, macabre.
The concept of purgatory makes us stumble, individually and collectively. To the point that more than a few Catholics and Christians claim there’s just one destination for faithful souls: heaven. And hell? Well, “surely a loving God wouldn’t create and damn anyone to hell.” Hold that thought.
Although All Saints Day is considered uniquely Roman Catholic, a little research reveals that John Wesley-founder of the Methodist Church loved All Saints Day.
For first-century Jews, purgatory was axiomatic. And was based on the Torah, specifically the Book of Maccabees: “If he [Judas] had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the (dead. . . . Whereupon he made an atonement that they might be delivered from sin”; for this indicates that souls after death pass through an intermediate state in which they may by some intercession be saved from doom.”
Our Catholic catechism is clear. Purgatory’s not a matter of opinion, but fact: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification so as to attain the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name “Purgatory” to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.
Does it exist?
Logically, a belief in heaven necessitates a corresponding belief in hell. But that is apparently not the case. A 2015 Pew Research study of 35,000 people found 72% of Americans believe there is a heaven, but less than 58% believe in hell. For increasing numbers of us believers, the notion of hell-even of purgatory- does not conform to their notion of a loving God. Despite our weekly recitation of the Apostle’s Creed.
Curious, isn’t it?
And from our secular friends?
Theologians and philosophers talk about “the problem of evil,” and the hygienic phrase itself bespeaks a certain distance from extreme suffering, the view from a life inside the charmed circle. They mean the classic difficulty of how we justify the existence of suffering and iniquity with belief in a God who created us, who loves us, and who providentially manages the world. The term for this justification is “theodicy,” which nowadays seems a very old-fashioned exercise in turning around and around the stripped screw of theological scholastics.
New York Times columnist Russ Douthat’s explanation of our disbelief in hell is worth a repeat:
“But the more important factor in hell’s eclipse, perhaps, is a peculiar paradox of modernity. As our lives have grown longer and more comfortable, our sense of outrage at human suffering — its scope, and its apparent randomness — has grown sharper as well. The argument that a good deity couldn’t have made a world so rife with cruelty is a staple of atheist polemic, and every natural disaster inspires a round of soul-searching over how to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human anguish.”
it’s a matter of faith.
Faith is a gift from God. But it’s also the product of a mysterious and mystical cooperstion between God and us. He does 99% of the work but if we’re incapable of accepting His grace, it’s an invitation that can be refused. God’s desire is the restoration of humanity to its original divinity but if we say no, it’s our choices that determine our eternal destination.
Either Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born to save humanity. Or He and His story are elaborate fabrications.
When I converted to Christian Catholicism, my decision wasn’t due to research. Nor was it a result of “shopping around.” In fact, as I reflect, it wasn’t a decision at all. But more a sense of finding what I’d not known I was searching for…It was a knowing that contained more than could ever be imagined. And belonging, finally, belonging.
When I announced my conversion to more than a few Christian Protestant friends and colleagues, they showed none of the shock I expected. Instead a calm and trusting acknowledgement, “Yes, we’ve been praying for you, Lin.” They’d expected this.
November’s the month of the dead—why should we care?
We faithful are obligated for those who cannot or will not pray for themselves.