|Arlington National Cemetery|
Paul in his letter to the Christian community in Colossae (western Turkey) proclaims we are one with Jesus, new creatures by virtue of the waters of baptism. Therefore, focus on heavenly things. We are images of God and our everyday behavior ought to reflect that likeness.
Jesus in the Gospel parable calls the one who accumulates wealth only for him/herself a fool. The rich man tries to create a secure future. He forgets his absolute dependency upon God, his own mortality. He dies that night. And someone else gets his stuff. You can’t take it with you.
Yes, we need the things we need to live, but the only thing we can take with us in death are our good deeds. Jesus urges us to make sure we have our priorities straight.
Over eight million people in America alone say they have had “near death” experiences. Many would argue that these are self-induced or hallucinatory visions. But one thing is certain about the afterlife: either we go on or we don't.
Blase Pascal, a 17th century French mathematician and philosopher, faced this dilemma. Confronted with two irreducible options—one of which had to be true, one of which had to be false--and having no certain way of knowing which is true, the only realistic option was to go with the appealing choice.
So, when the doorway to death opens, I believe I'm entering into a new, indescribably transformative happy life. If I'm wrong, Friedrich Nietzsche won't be saying “I told you so.” I simply won't be. Neither will Nietzsche.
The reality of death challenges us to answer the most important questions in life: how shall we live and what shall we do.
Dante's “The Divine Comedy” imaginatively reveals how he awoke in a dark wood (perhaps a midlife crisis) where Virgil leads him through earth to hell (“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”). They see sinners undergoing punishments.
Then they emerge to begin their ascent to purgatory and finally with his beloved Beatrice, Dante climbs the spheres of paradise into the dazzling vision of the Trinity.
So what are hell, purgatory and heaven? The language is best understood symbolically. God does not “send” us to hell; we freely choose to go. Hell can be described simply as the absence of God. It is the ultimate failure to realize our true self: whereas heaven is the ultimate fulfillment of our true self where we participate in the mystery of God. Purgatory then is a “purification” stage in which we become our true self. Judgment then is our own recognition of what is true and false in ourselves.
May the Word of God challenge us to get our priorities straight and seek first the kingdom of God.