Recently, a very saintly woman asked me what I thought of mediums – people who purport to make contact with those who have died, with those who have “passed over.” Being a practical philosopher and theologian by trade, and a lover of puns by personal preference, I responded: “It’s rare to find a medium that’s well done!” Ah, a pun worthy of my seminary classmate, Father Ron Ringrose.
Most of us are fascinated by life after death. The Catholic Church dedicates the whole month of November as a special time to pray for the faithful departed. We begin the month celebrating All Saints, seeing the multitudes of good people around God’s throne. Society has turned the eve of “all saints,” the eve of “all hallows,” into Halloween, a time for witches and ghosts and goblins. Instead of celebrating the spirits of the just, society focuses on the ghosts of the dead. We humans seem to love to scare ourselves.
What does happen when we die? Well, there seem to be as many beliefs as there are religions or believers. We Catholics believe in a particular judgment at the moment of death, and a general judgment at the end of time, followed by heaven, hell or purgatory. Most other Christians believe in heaven and hell but no purgatory. Most “new age” religions believe in heaven with no hell. Other religions, who believe that we reincarnate after death, believe that we have thousands of lifetimes here on earth. That’s almost like hell without heaven. Fortunately, they do believe that, with work, we can attain enlightenment and finally be freed from earthly existence.
Each faith, or religion, has its saints and seers, its visions and visionaries, its books and beliefs. Each is fairly convinced that it is right.
Arguing about beliefs is fairly futile. Rarely is anybody convinced by argument. Most are persuaded by love. A wise person once said: “If you have a choice between faith and beliefs, choose faith. Beliefs mean someone else did the thinking.”
From my point of view, I think we can safely follow the advice of the good Monsignor Kenney – Trust Jesus. Our faith is in a person, not in a proposition. To paraphrase the great Scripture scholar, Father Ray Brown, I don’t know if Muslims have to love Mohammed, and I don’t know if Jews have to love Moses, but Christians do have to love Jesus. Our faith is based on a relationship of trust and love.
And Jesus spoke of there being many mansions in his Father’s house. In other words, there’s room enough for a variety of people with a variety of beliefs. On a trip many years ago to the Grand Canyon, I remember a conversation I had with the bus driver. He said simply, “I can’t imagine the grand architect of this whole universe building a city with only one way to get there.”
So what happens when we die? I believe that we go back to God. To the degree that love has been the principle that fired our lives, to that degree it will be love meeting love. To the degree that we have made less than loving choices, to that degree there may well be a period of “letting go” of the lesser stuff.
And, yes, while I couldn’t resist the pun at the beginning of this column, I do know people who have found great comfort talking to mediums and channelers. And while it is possible to find Scripture passages that condemn such behavior, I prefer to judge with love not from fear. We all have different gifts. Some are the hard-headed realists who build our computers and roads and buildings. And others of us are more intuitive who write poetry, do counseling and open ourselves to “seeing” things from the heart, not just from the head.
Trust Jesus! Jesus is the Way and the Truth and Life. His love will protect us from being led astray either in time or eternity. And let us pray for all the dead: “Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, And let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace!”