Mr Joseph Vempeny
Posted on : 28/01/2008 05:35:10
Life after Death
The Oxford Dictionary defines death as the ‘irreversible ending of life’. If death is the end of life and if that process is irreversible, the very phrase ‘life after death’ is wrong in itself. But then, we use this expression to denote the immortal life, the life of the soul for which the death of the mortal body is just a change of phase.
Resurrection of the Dead
During question time at the end of a talk on ‘science and faith’, I was asked; “What is your view on resurrection? I said; “I have no personal views on the subject except what Jesus and Paul teach us through the New Testament.”
Jesus said that after resurrection we would be like angels in heaven (Mt. 22:30). That means we wont have physical bodies of flesh and blood that could be ugly or pretty, deformed or normal – only spiritual bodies. The beauty of the risen, spiritual body shall depend on the degree of sanctity achieved and not on the appearance of the earthly body before death. Paul affirms this in similar words; “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15: 42). And again; “..flesh and blood cannot inherit heaven” (1 Cor. 15: 50).
A friend of mine once tried to justify the term ‘resurrection of the body’ on the basis of the ‘sanctity of the body’ and the ‘unity of the body and soul’, as taught by the church fathers. In this context let me compare the body to the monstrance and the soul to the sacred host in it. The monstrance is sacred due to the presence of the Holy Eucharist in it. Even after the host had been removed we treat the monstrance with reverence, as it was the throne of our King. In the same way, we consider the human body as something sacred even after the soul has departed in death of the body. Thus I accept the concept of the sanctity of the body but the concept of the unity of the body and soul is still not clear to me. Such unity would mean that as the body is decaying and disintegrating in the grave, the soul is also disintegrating, that the soul is also dead.
Such a view cannot include the concept of saints. If we accept this view it would follow that there is nobody in heaven except God – not the prophets, not the apostles or evangelists, not the saints – because till the second coming or the day of resurrection when the bodies are resurrected the souls are also dead or decaying. But I believe that St. Therese of Lissiux or mother Theresa of Culcatta and all the saints ant the souls of those departed in grace are now in heaven, with God, in their glorified bodies similar to the bodies of angels as Jesus said. They do not have to wait for a resurrection of the body to regain their full individuality. One who believes in the immortality of the soul cannot speak of the unity of body and soul.
Praying for the dead
“We know that our mother is in heaven. Why should we pray for her? Anyway, she had been judged at her death. How is any amount of prayer now or in the future going to make any difference?” These questions came from the anguished hearts of my children while we were mourning the death of their dear mother. I said, “If you are sure that she is in heaven now, if she was such a good person, it could very well be, at least partly, due to God’s blessings on her in response to the sacrifices and prayers that you offer now and are going to do in the future. For, the Lord is, unlike us, above the limitations of time. He could hear fifty years ago the prayers you and your children are ever going to make.”
I often used to wonder how and why the good Lord had been so kind to me and given me so many blessings. The only reason I can offer for this abundance of mercy is that they are the result of the prayers my children and grand children, my other relations and friends shall be offering on my behalf even after I have left this world.
Another reason for going to the graveside of a close and dear one is to communicate. Even as we communicate with God in spirit during prayer we can very well communicate with the spirit of the deceased. This is not clairvoyance or black magic, just letting him or her know that you miss him or her and letting that person know that he/she is still very much in your thoughts. Being pure spirits they will surely get these messages and shall be very pleased and even intercede for you before the Lord.
This brings us to another dimension of our relationship with the deceased. We could pray to them or through them even as we pray for them. Even if my father, mother or wife are not canonized by the church, if I feel that they are close to God in the next life as a result of the good lives they lived, I could very well pray to them even as I pray to the saints.
Yet another aspect of this prayer for the dead is to thank the Lord for giving us the privilege of knowing and/or living with this person.