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What do we hope for in heaven? Home

It won’t be endless beer and jazz in the afterlife

By on Monday, 8 April 2013

Heaven, as imagined in Baltimore CNS

Heaven, as imagined in Baltimore CNS

Last Friday morning our parish priest announced that as it was the first Friday of the month, Mass would be offered for the Holy Souls. Sometimes announcements like this do not ruffle the comfortable surface of one’s consciousness; one thinks “Holy Souls? Yep – been to that devotion and bought the T-shirt”.

Yet sometimes, a moment of grace perhaps, one is jolted into deeper reflection. On this occasion I remembered that we were still in the novena of the devotion to the Divine Mercy and that the author of the Abbey Road blog, Terry Nelson (whom I sometimes look at because of the cheeky photos he unearths to cover Church news items), had written that same day, April 5, “On this 8th Day of the Novena the Lord asked St Faustina to pray for the souls in Purgatory.” He had added, and it was this that made me listen a bit harder to the priest’s announcement, “I’m hoping some of the people I’ve known and loved have made it there.”

What! Don’t we all go straight to heaven as soon as we die? Or, if not to the (scary) Christian “Heaven”, at least to a place where there’s endless beer, jazz and good times? Look, I’m a Catholic and I know this isn’t true – but the modern, godless world with its love of maudlin sentimental funeral services can lull one’s sounder theological instincts into the momentary tempting embrace of a schmaltzy nirvana.

Now, pondering Terry Nelson’s remark further, I think, “If you love a person, surely it implies they are lovable people? And if you find them loveable, surely God will too – despite their human faults and flaws?” In other words, is it really possible to love someone – with one’s heart and not merely one’s will – who appears to be seriously in danger of Hell? We might pity them, feel sorry for them, pray for them – but love them? I don’t know the answer to this.

I blogged last week about having had lunch with the Canadian broadcaster, Michael Coren. During our conversation he mentioned his late father – a secular Jewish Cockney from the East End. When his father died, Michael said that for a moment he felt desperate to receive a sign from God to confirm that his father was safely “home.” Then his wife reminded him that, two months before his death, his father had visited them in Canada and had attended Mass and his grandchildren’s Nativity play. On both occasions the old man had wept, a sign that his heart was open, in its own way, to the mystery of Divine love.

When my own brother died last year, I also wanted to know he was “home”. He had been a lifelong Catholic but his life had also been full of the usual failings and falls from grace, and he had struggled with alcoholism for many years. And in answer to my unspoken plea, God gave the most beautiful sign imaginable: a prepared and holy death on All Souls Day itself – the very day in the liturgical year when the souls in Purgatory are paramount in the thoughts and prayers of the living.

Yesterday was Divine Mercy Sunday. Terry Nelson quoted the words of Our Lord in his private revelation to the obscure Polish nun, Sr Faustina, as recorded in her Diary: “Pray as much as you can for the dying. By your entreaties, obtain for them trust in my mercy, because they have the most need of trust and have it the least.” Also yesterday, journalist and broadcaster Libby Purves, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, gave it as her view that “even people of faith know in their bones that we don’t really know anything at all about what lies beyond death.” Speak for yourself, Libby – but don’t claim to know what people of faith know, believe and hope when they pray the words of the Divine Mercy invocation: “Jesus, I trust in you.”

  • Cestius

    I would agree about “the modern, godless world with its love of maudlin sentimental funeral services”, I’ve been to too many sentimental funeral services recently – “celebration of life” as they are commonly called, and they are deeply depressing. All about the past, what was and what might have been, when the funeral should be concentrating on what is and the hope of the final resurrection, and reunion with God who is perfect love. And that to me eases the pain of (hopefully temporary) separation more than anything.

  • Benedict Carter

    As for me, I hope I make it into Purgatory.

  • scary goat

    Me too.

  • $20596475

    As I don’t believe it exists I hope I don’t look too surprised. Oh, sorry I forgot. I won’t be invited in because I don’t think as you do!

  • James M

    “What do we hope for in heaven? Home”

    ## No fear. Heaven without God, first, last, and in all things. would be worse than worthless. People are far too easily satisfied. It’s this satisfaction with gifts instead of the Giver that guarantees Catholicism will remain anaemic, worldly, and no earthly good at all. It can be no good on earth, if it is not Heavenly-minded. Saints are not made by fixing their eyes on the world instead of looking to God. Alice Thomas Ellis (R.I.P.) knew this – she says as much in “Serpent on the Rock”. This is – or was – basic Catholicism. Not now. :(

    A religion of milk and water, and what Chesterton condemned as “philanthropy”, has no transforming power. It produces no martyrs or Saints or missionaries. It is “of the earth, earthly” – it is no more than prettified paganism. And excuses about how difficult it is to be Catholic, or Christian in any way, are just that: excuses. It is no match for an Islam whose followers will gladly die, even if they are blown up before going to their Paradise. A religion whose followers have no fear is more than a match for the feeble & fearful & doubting trash that passes for Christianity in the UK.

    “even people of faith know in their bones that we don’t really know anything at all about what lies beyond death.”

    ## We know well what lies beyond death – & some of us, thank God, being converts, were never subjected to whatever causes a lapsation rate of 97% If the CC persists in its efforts to become an arm of the National Secular Society, then it is opposing Christ & will be destroyed by Him.

    BTW, that is a repulsive painting, faithful to the bad tradition of depicting angels and Saints as languid girls with consumption. Icons are far better – they don’t make the blunder of trying to be naturalistic(!) in depicting supernatural things, as Western Catholic art does. That painting would do nicely as a Persil ad.

  • Benedict Carter


    But I do like the picture.

  • James M

    At least you don’t pretend to be Christian :) That’s honest, and refreshing. And far preferable to the sub-Christian, anti-Christian, dross & piffle that passes for Catholicism but is really an abortifacient for it.

    What the OP describes sounds like a means of smothering Christianity. Non-Christians cannot in any way be blamed for this. The malady is self-inflicted – it’s the Church’s equivalent of chlamydia, the result of cavorting with “the world” – which the Church was warned not to do. Having done so, she now has a lot of lovely STDs to show for it – & I don’t mean the theology degree of S.T.D.

    FWIW, the Church exists for those not in it. It looks idiotic, and is useless, if it behaves as a self-perpetuating clique. It’s not a club, even if it feels like one.

  • James M

    “Now, pondering Terry Nelson’s remark further, I think, “If you love a person, surely it implies they are lovable people? And if you find them loveable, surely God will too – despite their human faults and flaws?” In other words, is it really possible to love someone – with one’s heart and not merely one’s will – who appears to be seriously in danger of Hell? We might pity them, feel sorry for them, pray for them – but love them? I don’t know the answer to this.”

    ## To think that because we love Aunty, God “must” love Aunty despite her vices, because of what is loveable in her, is a dangerous equivocation. It also ignores the gravity of sin.

    God does love Aunty – that much is true. The error comes when we suppose that because we love Aunty, therefore God “must” do so too. That is back to front – & it implies that the estimate we have of a person, “must” be shared by God; that He must agree with us. No. Human love is an echo or application of the Infinite Divine Love – because God is Love, His creatures can show love too. Creaturely loving is derived from God’s Love – never the other way round. Any good in Aunty, including her very existence, is God’s gift. Aunty’s sins & vices, by contrast, are all her own work. They are totally hateful, as is all sin. The only thing worse than a venial sin, is mortal sin.

    If God loves only the [humanly] loveable, a lot of us are damned. This is determinism – a pagan doctrine, that breeds despair. None of us is loveable: God loves us even so – paradox 1. Paradox 2: God does not love us because we are good, as though responding to good we produce without Him; His Love is the sole & total cause of all good in every creature in all respects. His Love is creative – it creates loveableness in creatures where none was. It does not find us loveable, but makes us so. That Aunty may be in mortal sin, is healed not by God’s turning from her because her sins deserve it (though they do), but by His loving her *despite* her deserts. That is what He has done “in Christ” for the entire human race at Calvary, and does for all mankind. No-one deserved it. And He puts the Love of His Son in the hearts of the members of His Son, that they (IOW, we) may produce Christ’s fruits. So what if we don’t like X or Y or Z ? Christ died for X or Y or Z, so our preferences are irrelevant. Instead, our hearts have to be conformed to His Heart. This is not optional. We are entitled to have no Heart & Mind & Spirit toward them but His, because we are His slaves, sheep, and property, & not our own. That X wants to love Y is itself a grace to X, for the salvation of X & Y alike. The obedience of X in wanting this, is also a grace. The whole economy of our salvation is one grace of God upon another, and a proof of the infinite excellence & majesty of Christ, since it is all for His sake.

    “We might pity them, feel sorry for them, pray for them – but love them?”

    ## How are the first three going to be supernatural in motive, & not the last ? If the first three are supernatural, & are not mere perfunctory fleeting sentimentality, then supernatural love for others is unavoidable. Supernatural (not merely natural) love is what enlivens & strengthens pity, sorrow for others, & prayer for them. Supernatural love is not based on feelings, & can flourish without them; they are incidental. Whether we love or not arises (in God) from His grace’s moving us; & (in us) from our wills. Not our feelings.

  • Jon Brownridge

    A few comments below refer to the awful picture that goes with this article. It depicts the typical naive and childish religious concepts of medieval believers which are still held by so many, even today. But since Sister Faustina is also mentioned, I couldn’t help but link her story to the same web of make believe and superstition.

    This poor young woman, referred to as a “lay sister” (actually, all nuns are lay sisters) because of her lack of education and assignment to menial tasks, probably craved attention and recognition. Abnegation, self denial, and physical deprivation, especially lack of food, evidently caused her to suffer severe hallucinations. This deteriorated to the point that voices spoke to her and commanded her to do strange things like have a grotesque painting made of a Christ figure gushing blood and water from the heart. Now the story has taken on a life of its own, and if our parish is anything to go by, people can’t get enough of this bizarre ritual veneration. This is precisely the kind of thing we need to get away from. This is not what the Church is about.

    But I am encouraged by the direction taken by our new Pope and by his emphasis on pastoral care. Surely, that is where our energies should be directed.

  • $28180339

    May I offer to you a short book to read called Proof of Heaven by Eban Alexander MD? He is a neurologist who experienced a NDE under unique conditions which included his higher brain functions completely nonfunctional at the time. And the author is not Catholic.

  • Pope Zicola

    I pray and hope that my soul, too, will be put in the boil wash and bleaching agent that is purgatory and, at a time God deems fit, that He tells me to get on board to the Bye and Bye…

    Lord Jesus Christ, I place everything in your Holy Hands – you take care of it! (Father Dolindo)

  • Benedict Carter

    Here we go again!

    Medieval = “naive”, “childish”.

    Oh dear oh dear oh dear! The pride and utter arrogance of us Moderns!

    We are dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of medieval giants.

  • Jon Brownridge

    “We are dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of medieval giants.”

    I have some sympathy for that point of view, but I would take it back much further – to the first century in fact. We’ve lost the Light and that’s our problem. Consider this:

    “My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that THEY told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally”. John Dominic Crossan, Who Is Jesus.

  • $20596475

    Thanks, I am sure you mean well. Those who have had “near death” experiences often report this kind of illusion. For illusion it is. What it proves is not that heaven exists, but that a desire for a heaven exists. On that we can certainly agree.

    I could find you a book which claims to prove that heaven does not exist. In the meantime let me point you to the Guardian review of your recommendation:-

    The truth is that as no-one actually knows we have to make our own judgement. Some do so based on belief, others on reason and logic.

  • Peter

    “This is not what the Church is about”

    If the Church is not about Divine Mercy, then what is it about?

    If we cannot rely on God’s infinite mercy, what is the point of pastoral care?

    All our actions and efforts, however well-meaning, would be in vain.

  • $28180339

    The critic in the Guardian is not a neurologist, not even an MD, so he doesn’t really have a clue on how the brain works, thus he’s really not credible .

    I only recommend this book because I find it fascinating that a man, who studied & operated on the brain most of his adult life & who experienced brain death, in the area of the brain where dreams, illusions, fantasies, & delusions takes place, could not logically & rationally experience illusions but in fact did. What makes him unique is he is the only documented case with this sort of brain death.

    I will admit the book incorporates some New Agey type of ideas which loses me; but I personally read it for the scientific aspect of the doctor’s experience.

  • Jon Brownridge

    Divine Mercy is not the issue. It’s the superstition and mass hysteria surrounding figures like Sister Faustina that concern me.

  • Peter

    If you believe in the supernatural reality of Divine Mercy, why do you disbelieve in its supernatural revelation to a young nun?

  • AlanP

    Why do you oppose belief and reason/logic? Reason and logic play a part, even a small part, in whatever we believe (in your case, the absence of heaven). It would be totally illogical to exclude revelation as a constituent of reason.
    For my part, we know hardly anything of what heaven is like (indeed it is impossible for our poor finite brains to imagine it), and I think we should live the best we can and leave the rest to God.

  • AlanP

    I worded the first sentence of my reply badly – should be “Why do you think belief is opposed to reason/logic?”

  • AlanP

    That Guardian critic, Peter Stanford, is a former Catholic Herald editor. Presumably he believes in heaven, he just doesn’t think the book goes anywhere near proving it.

  • Oliver Delargy

    Thank you for this Francis. It’s true, we have to remember that death is supposed to be a beautiful moment, not a sad one.

    “I am not dying. I am entering into Life”.

    - St. Therese of Liseux

  • Con

    The bible says we should be looking forward to heaven. Jesus is preparing many mansions for us, I.e. there’s lots of room! Stop worrying and let God direct your lives! Purgatory doesn’t exist there’s no place where people go who aren’t good enough for heaven or hell for in relevation it says ” your either hot or cold” so you can’t be in between! And hell means the grave in Greek, death. Relation talks about a lake of fire and brimstone prepared for satan and his angels!! See, it’s not prepared for us originally but satan! God desires we all follow Him! So don’t worry, trust in Jesus and read your bibles!

  • Dr Falk

    Thanks Jon – I think there’s something in this. The nature of the literary genre is important or we end up with two differing literal Creation accounts in Genesis – how do we reconcile them if they are literally true? If the Gospels give different renderings of the words written over the Cross of Jesus how do we know which one is true? I can’t see how strict literalists can answer these points. The literary genre of the document is key

  • Dr Falk

    Hello majorcalamity,
    I expect to see you there. Best wishes,

  • Daniel_Borsell

    What is the “we”, as in “we go to heaven”? Not our bodies, or any physical matter, not the brain and the personality it creates. If just our soul, how much of ‘us’ is that?

  • Joe Zammit

    It is a fact that God wants to save all people. It is a fact that Christ has suffered, died and risen from the dead to save all people. The problem of salvation is not with God but with people. Do people want to go to heaven to spend eternity with God? If yes, I ask again: But do they really want to?

    Jesus said to Saint Faustina Kowalska: “Oh, if sinners knew my mercy, they would not perish in such great numbers!”

  • Joe Zammit

    The heart of Jesus overflows with mercy for souls. He dwells in the tabernacle as King of Mercy. He desires to bestow his graces upon souls, but many do not want to accept them. Many have time for everything, but have no time to go to Jesus for graces.

  • Joe Zammit

    The eternal loss of each soul saddens God greatly. The prayer most pleasing to him is that for the conversion of sinners. This prayer is always heard and answered.

    God wants to give himself to souls and fill them with his love, but few there are who want to accept all the graces. His graces are not lost; if the soul for whom they were intended does not accept them, another soul will receive them.

  • Joe Zammit

    In the Old Testament Abraham pleaded with God not to destroy the city of Sodom on condition that he found 50 righteous persons, but unfortunately the just amounted to fewer than ten! Who
    knows, if God were to reveal to us how many are in the state of grace at this very moment, shall we be so much disappointed as Abraham was? Who knows, if God were to raise all our relatives and ancestors buried in our cemeteries, how many of them will rise to eternal life? Shall we remain stunned at the number?

  • Joe Zammit

    We are very much concerned about material poverty and we do well, but how little we are aware of the spiritual poverty that is flourishing around us! How many could not care less
    about their spiritual life! How many are being deceived by deferring their conversion to their last moment on earth! How many of these will fail to convert and choose hell as their eternal destiny!

  • Joe Zammit

    Oliver, you are right, but the problem is not with ‘dying’ or not but with the state of the soul while we are dying. We must remember that we die as we live. If the great majority of people are living in sin, the probability is that they are going to die in sin, ending up in hell for ever.

    I quote St John Mary Vianney, who has so many fans among priests and laity. He said: “The number of the saved is as few as the number of grapes left after the vineyard-pickers have passed.” And I can quote many other great saints who all agree that few are saved, many are lost for ever. To date I haven’t come across a saint who said the contrary.

  • $24570317

    I am only allowed to see CH articles some days after others generally are.
    But, having said that, as we “all” say these days:
    “… it really possible to love someone – with one’s heart and not merely one’s will – who appears to be seriously in danger of Hell? We might pity them, feel sorry for them, pray for them – but love them? I don’t know the answer to this.”

    From my experience I believe the answer is a very solid “yes”.

    If you really love another, then your love is unconditional. Genuine love is always unconditional.
    I thought this was explained in one of the Gospels.
    Not quite your point of course. But whoever the person is, s/he is your neighbour – and you must love your neighbour ” as I have loved you”.