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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Heaven, Hell and Our Bodies (4 of 4)

In my last post, I talked about the individual judgment and the universal judgment that will occur in the end times. This Sunday, November 23rd, we face the end times of our Christian year with the celebration of Christ the King.

The Resurrection of the Body

As we believe that Christ will come again, we also profess that the dead will be resurrected on that day when Christ draws all to himself. Associated with that resurrection is the resurrection of the body in which each person will be completely human, both body and soul, for all eternity. How will this happen? Who really knows, but St. Paul in his 1st letter to the Corinthians writes about our spiritual bodies being raised. Material creation will also be transformed and God will provide for us an environment in which our resurrected, glorified bodies would thrive for all eternity.

What is heaven?

We always think about heaven as a place high above the earth with pure white and fluffy clouds, but heaven is more of a state than a place. It is the state of eternal life in union with God and with those who share in his life. Heaven in the perfect fulfillment of our life – we will finally be completely what God intends us to be - and we shall come to know God directly. Our response undoubtedly will only be one of happiness.

In heaven, we will retain our individuality, but the transforming love of Christ will mold us into totally unselfish images of the Father. Those virtues and characteristics that we strive for on earth – peace, love, truth, wisdom, goodness, beauty, justice, companionship and understanding – will be fulfilled.

So, then what is purgatory?

Purgatory essential means a state purification or cleansing. We are to be free from all of our sins before we enter into heaven. That is why the church administers the viaticum – formerly the last rites – so that we can confess our sins before we meet our maker.

While we have scant references to purgatory in scripture, we read about our need to pray for the dead so that they may be released from their sin. The prayers of the living, especially at the Eucharist where we offer Masses for the repose of a person’s soul, help those who are in purgatory.

A person may enter purgatory due to the nature of the sins committed, or for one’s hesitation in totally opening one’s heart to God, or for our unwillingness to love God perfectly. During the Beatific vision when we encounter God face to face, our sinful infidelities may burn within us as we recognize the ways we failed to love God, but God’s gaze eventually penetrates and melts away our imperfections so that our hearts can totally accept the eternal union that God offers us.

And what about hell?

Hell is eternal separation from God. A person who has died and has turned away from God’s love is turned inward to one’s own self – eternally – cutting oneself off from other relationships. A person experiences a sense of loss and a suffering of the senses. All people exercise free choice to accept or turn away from God. It has to be this way for God to respect our free will.

Who is in hell? Who knows? God’s merciful judgment is essentially for us, but we know that it is possible for a person to definitively reject God, but I wonder if any person could actually do that.

Be assured. A person who fundamentally loves God will act out of one’s love so we don’t need to unnecessarily fear hell. Our actions shape our selves and our future destiny by each of our actions. We always have to remember that God loved us so much that he sent Jesus into the world to save us from ourselves so that we may have eternal life. That is indeed the best good news that I have ever heard.

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