At some point in our lives, we all realise that one day we will die. But is death really the end? The concept of afterlife, or some form of existence after death, has been around for millennia. According to Catholic teachings, after we die, our soul separates from our bodies and is judged by God. Depending on the outcome of the judgement, our souls go to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory. This belief is centred around Jesus’s resurrection and God’s plan of our salvation. Like Jesus, we will rise and go to be with God in Heaven, because he has cleansed us of sin. Death still occurs, and our bodies will waste away, but if we’ve been good people and have faith, we will go to Heaven and have Eternal Life in God’s presence.
Some people think of Heaven as the pearly-gated paradise in the clouds, and Hell as a fiery cavern of eternal damnation and torture. While no one knows for sure, the Catholic belief is that Heaven is the “ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” It is also described as eternity in God’s presence. This relates to the Catholic principle of Primacy of God, because through life and death, a Catholic’s ultimate goal is to be closer to God. Hell is the opposite of Heaven, and exists because God gives us free will, so we can reject God’s love and go to Hell if we choose. Matthew 25:46 says “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Hell’s “Eternal Fire” is representative of pain and suffering, the result if we forsake God. The main punishment of Hell is believed to be eternal separation from God, and Catholics teach that the only way a human can reach true happiness and fulfillment is through God, our creator. Purgatory is the third, lesser known option after we pass through judgement. It is the place where souls go that still have “God’s grace and friendship” but are not completely free of sin. They are purified in a “cleansing fire” and once they’re holy enough, go to Heaven. Other evidence of an afterlife exists in the form of saints. Saints are people that lived on Earth, are thought of as very holy and are now in Heaven. To become a saint, a person must perform two miracles after death, which are evaluated by officials in the Vatican. This gives them proof that the saint is in Heaven. So Catholics strongly believe that there is some form of life after death.
The Christian concept of Heaven is also based on Jesus’s death and Resurrection. By dying on the cross, Jesus has atoned for our sins as humans and renewed God’s love for us. Theologians have a few theories on exactly how we were saved, but the main idea is that Jesus has basically “opened” Heaven for us and those who died before he was born. He descended into Hell as the saviour, preached the Good News to those who hadn’t heard it, and ascended into Heaven to be with God. Additionally, Heaven is part of God’s divine plan for our salvation. If we are kind, faithful, forgiving and follow the Catholic principle of the Common Good, we will lead a life that is free of sin and be purified. Then we can go to Heaven, where ultimately God wants us all to end up. There is also Final Judgement at the end of time, when the good and bad will be separated and the Universe will be renewed in Christ. Our lives are precious, we have sanctity of life, because where we end up for eternity depends on what we decide to do in our lives.
Christians believe death is not the end. All our lives are preparation for where we will go after we die: Heaven, Hell or Purgatory. Heaven is the ultimate goal, and Jesus has opened it for us. We won’t know anything for sure until our time comes, but when it does, it would be nice to hope we can live forever in Heaven.