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Ramiro Pellitero, high school Superior of Religious Sciences, University of Navarra, Spain

Concern about the afterlife

Thu, 25 Nov 2010 10:52:00 +0000 Published in

It has been said that at the bottom of all fears is the fear of dying. It seems that the possibility of downloading the "configuration" and personal "preferences" to a computer is currently being considered, so that they will remain somewhere...

We are reluctant to disappear from the world and penetrate the unknown. This is explained by the fact that, on the one hand, life provides us with the experience that we all die, and, on the other hand, no one has returned from the beyond to tell us what happens. Then there is the separation from loved ones.

Current cinema, as in the film "Hereafter"(Clint Eastwood 2010), also wonders about what lies beyond and about communication with those who have died, but without naming God; at some point, the Christian faith is evoked, but in a disjointed and unconvincing way. Nevertheless, the uneasiness remains, and the whole film is testimony to this.

Perhaps," writes Benedict XVI in his encyclical on hope (2007), "many people today reject the faith simply because eternal life does not seem desirable to them. They do not want eternal life at all, but the present life, and for this, faith in eternal life seems to them rather an obstacle". They would like," he continues, "to postpone death as long as possible. But - he argues - to continue to live without end would be rather a condemnation or a burden, something boring and unbearable.

St. Augustine, who treated the topic, concludes that deep down we want only one thing, be it the blessed life or, simply, happiness. In the Pope's words, "in some way we desire life itself, the true life, that which is not affected even by death". We would want to eternalize "the moment plenary session of the Executive Council of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality.... the moment of immersion in the ocean of infinite love, in which time - the before and after - no longer exists". This moment would be "life in the sense plenary session of the Executive Council, plunging ever anew into the immensity of being, at the same time as we are simply overflowing with joy."

Faith in the afterlife is certainly not exclusive to Christianity. It is supported by other religions. What is proper to biblical faith is the resurrection of the dead. That is, the faith that, at the end of time and history, we will recover our bodies to be ourselves again; and, if we have passed the test on love (St. John of the Cross), live forever. It is not about reincarnation (taking on "another" flesh or another figure, living the life of another person), but about taking on our own flesh.

In the song Eric Clapton composed for his four-year-old son - who in 1991 fell from a 53rd floor in New York - he asked him, "Would you know my name if I saw you in Heaven? Would it be the same if we met in Heaven?"(Tears in Heaven). Yes, Christians have hope that we will meet loved ones in the fellowship of God's family, just as we hope for justice final and the renewal of the world.

It is important to insist that Christian hope has nothing to do with individualism. Already in this life," writes Benedict XVI, "no human being is a monad closed in on itself. Our existences are in profound communion with one another, intertwined with one another through multiple interactions. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The life of others continually enters into my life: in what I think, say, do or do. And vice versa, my life enters into the lives of others, in both good and evil".

Reach the source of knowledge and love. To enter into communion staff with the Truth and the Good, the Beauty and the full Life, together with all those who have reached it in the same family. Hence all the expressions (vision of God "face to face", unimaginable beauty, unceasing newness...) fall short to speak of what awaits us. And not only does it await us, but it is already offered to us incoherently by means of the c.

Christian hope is not an easy consolation, nor is it an escape from commitments here below. On the contrary, it implies responsibility for the whole world, even to the cross, with the serenity and even the joy of one who knows that all things, even the smallest, can be made eternal by love.

Death," wrote Gustave Thibon, "awaits us, according to the height of our desires, as a bride or as an executioner, and of all the acts of our soul only our participation in that which, because it does not proceed from time, will not die with it. Cronos devours only his own children" (Nuestra mirada ciega ante la luz, Rialp, 1973). And he picks up the words of St. Catherine of Siena to a person overwhelmed by the weight of temporal tasks: "It is we who make them temporal, because everything proceeds from divine goodness". Thus, Thibon concludes, "all that is not eternity regained is time lost".