Unto Everlasting Life
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You may have noticed that some people simply refuse to talk about, or even think about, death. If a child were to ask, "What happens when you die?" or, "Am I going to die someday?" such people would avoid answering. Instead they would reply, "Don't ask such questions. You must not think about such horrible things."
Although death is not a pleasant thing, it is not wise to run away from the thought of it. Death will come to all of us. Each day we live takes us one day closer to the day we die. Knowing and thinking about what death really means should help us to face it with less fear than those who may have refused to think about it at all.
Everything that is part of nature reaches a point when it begins to come apart or come to an end. All plants and animals die. Even things which seem to last forever, such as rocks and mountains, slowly wear away into dust over thousands of years. Our bodies also belong to the world of nature, and one day they will die. Our souls are spirits which live forever, but God created us to be complete persons, body and soul, and he has promised to reunite our bodies and souls so that we shall live forever. It is normal to fear the pain of dying and to be sad over separation from those we love. But it helps to know that death is not really the end of us.
At death, we will be judged on how we made use of the grace Jesus won for us on the Cross. Those who die in the state of mortal sin, without having repented, will spend eternity in Hell. People often ask, "How can a loving God send someone to Hell?" It is incorrect to picture a poor soul being "sent" to Hell by God, dragged away while crying hopelessly for forgiveness. That is not the way it happens. When a person dies in mortal sin, his soul is forever fixed in hatred of God and love for no one but himself. Such a soul would not even be happy in Heaven. Those who go to Hell send themselves there. Although souls in Hell do not want God, they cannot be happy without him. God is the source of all happiness; without him no one can be happy. So the worst suffering of Hell is the loss of God.
But if we die in the state of grace, we will enjoy eternity with God in Heaven. It is impossible to imagine how wonderful Heaven really is. Paintings and stories about a Heaven full of clouds and angels playing harps make Heaven seem unreal or even boring. The fact is Heaven is more real, more beautiful, and more interesting than any place on earth. If you do not like the idea of clouds and light, then think of majestic forests and mountains, or anything that you find beautiful. But remember that Heaven is not really like that either. It is far more beautiful then anything we can imagine.
It is the presence of God that keeps us forever happy in Heaven. We will not miss the joys of life on earth. God is the source of all that we love, so we will find in him everything that made us truly happy on earth - and more. "We shall see him as he is", says Saint John (1 Jn 3:2). At the same time, the sight of God will not cause us to ignore everyone else. On the contrary, because we will love God perfectly in Heaven, we will be able to love others better than we ever could on earth. In Heaven we will be reunited with friends and relatives who have died before us, knowing and loving them better than we ever did before. We will meet the saints and angels. At last we will see our guardian angels and recognize them as old friends. Best of all, we will be able to know and love Jesus and Mary better than any friends we have had on earth.
Even though anyone who dies in the state of grace is saved, not all souls go straight to Heaven. If someone dies with venial sins on his soul or if he was not as sorry as he should have been for past mortal sins, then he is not quite ready for Heaven. Such a soul still has to be cleansed until it loves God perfectly and has not trace of sin left. So these souls go to Purgatory for awhile. In Purgatory, souls will be purified of all that kept them from being close to God while on earth. These souls are suffering for having wasted time during life that could have been spent growing closer to God. At the same time, they are filled with hope. That is because they know Heaven will be theirs soon.
It should comfort us to know there is a place like Purgatory. Thanks to Purgatory, we know that if we have tried to love and serve God, even though we could have loved him much more, we will not go to Heaven unprepared. You would not want to go to a party in an old wrinkled suit, or play in a Super Bowl without a uniform. Purgatory will not be fun, but it will make us ready for Heaven.
It is also good to know that we can help the souls in Purgatory. When we pray for them or cheerfully offer up some unpleasant thing that happens to us their stay in Purgatory can be shortened. This is one reason why we offer prayers and the Mass for the dead, especially for those from our own families.
The End of This World
When in God's infinite wisdom it is the right time, the world will come to an end. This is not a thing to be feared. The end of the world will bring the return of Jesus to earth, this time as the triumphant and glorious King of Heaven. He will judge the living and the dead, so that all of us can see the good God has done in each of our lives and in the whole human race.
The end of the world will also be the time for "the resurrection of the body", in which we express our belief when we say the Creed. Except for Mary, human beings in Heaven now are not complete: part of them is missing. But in the end, God will make our bodies new and strong again, and reunite them with our souls. Then our joy in Heaven will be even greater. We will be able to enjoy the happiness of Heaven with both our souls and our bodies. Our bodies will be beautiful and perfect in every way, like the body of Jesus after his Resurrection. Saint John had a vision of the end of the world, and he tried to put it into words:
I saw a new Heaven and a new earth; for the first Heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was not more. . . And I heard a great voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them. . . He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be nor more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away. (Rev 21:1-4)
All of us long for perfect happiness. Perfect joy will be ours if we use this life to get ourselves ready for it. Heaven is our true home; earth is just our journey to find it. Every prayer we say, every sacrament we receive, every act of love for others makes us more and more into the kind of person who will be able to enjoy eternity with God. We call this kind of person a "saint" even if he or she has not been officially named a saint by the Church. All of us want to "be something" someday: a priest, a nun, a doctor, a teacher, a parent, or even the president. But there is nothing better or more exciting to wish for than to be a saint. We can start making that wish come true right now.
Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534
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