What’s it really going to be like? What can I expect? Will it be worth it? What is this “reality” we call afterlife?
As we wind down this liturgical year with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe on Nov. 20, the Sundays, as well as weekday readings for Mass, focus our attention toward the end of time, the second coming of Christ and how to prepare.
Scripture relates a number of scenarios, but just where are we going to end up? What’s it going to be like?
I do many visitations at hospitals and often hospices. The question comes up quite often. What’s it like on the “other side?” Personally, I’m not a big fan of harps and clouds, but if necessary I will adapt. Bottom line: we really don’t know for sure. That’s where faith comes in – faith in the promise of Jesus himself.
We do know that resurrection is indeed a reality. Jesus spoke about this. We know his power over death. Christ raised the dead to life. Christ himself rose from the dead and promised that those baptized will also enjoy the gifts of new life.
We really don’t have a lot of specifics about afterlife. We believe it’s better than what we are experiencing and that we will be rewarded for carrying our cross, loving God and our neighbor, being faithful disciples, and, as Matthew chapter 25 tells us, by practicing the corporal works of mercy. It’s all clearly stated. Would it be easier to follow Christ if we had more facts on what to expect?
Many I talk to have some ideas on what they hope afterlife will include. As a bicyclist, I would anticipate some beautiful scenery and good bike trails (paved, but I’m not fussy) with some rather high quality bikes to ride. Good companionship with God and with the saints on the trail would be a must.
Others talk about serene fields and plains, some talk about sandy beaches, some hope for beautiful churches and quality architecture, beautiful music, art, dance and much more. We have high expectations and hopes.
Some are thrown off by the polka, “In Heaven There is No Beer.” The reality is the pleasure obtained from a few ounces of earth’s golden nectar will be far surpassed by the satisfactions given to us directly by God in heaven. I’m sure if we asked, a cold mug would be provided for us now and then.
There’s a story that relates a question asked to a pastor by one of the parish members. The man asks what afterlife is like. The wise old pastor responded, “Let me take you there.” He begins in hell, portrayed as a long banquet table beautifully arrayed and set with the finest of wines, meats, vegetables and the like. People are seated at the table as far as the eye can see, but there’s a type of cast on the arms of the people that prohibit them from consuming the food. They are starving.
“This is hell,” the pastor tells the man. “Let me take you to heaven.”
In heaven, they find a similar scene with a luscious banquet set with the very best. They also see people seated at the table as far at the eye can see. Like hell, they see the diners seated on either side of the table with a cast on their arms preventing them from feeding themselves. Unlike hell, these people are not starving because, despite the “casts,” they are able to reach the person across the table and the person next to them and they are feeding one another. All are content and satisfied.
Our experience on earth is a time where one might say, “we learn good eating habits.” The conclusion is that’s what Jesus has been trying to teach us. These habits include reaching out and learning to feed one another. As we have learned good eating habits here, we just might be asked to practice them in eternal life. If we haven’t learned well, our afterlife could be a constant state of starvation.
That story can be a bit of an “eye opener.” There’s a good chance that afterlife just may contain further opportunities to grow and develop and experience God’s love. This divine love could be a love that burns so profoundly in each of us that goodness continues to emerge after death. We just may not be done when we finish life here on earth! Is that what we term as “purgatory”?
Maybe speculation on afterlife just isn’t that helpful after all. Being faithful to Christ and his teachings should be enough for us. For those that trust, no further clarity is needed or expected.