What happens after we die?
Scholar Peter Kreeft writes that death teaches us the infinite value of human life . . .
Nothing brings home to us the importance and value of human life more sharply than death. We seldom appreciate life until we realize how fragile it is, when friends and family are taken from us by death.
Death clarifies our perspective, sharpens our sight, and brings our whole life to a point, like the single summit of a many-sided mountain. Death teaches us all the truth of Jesus’ words: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful” (Lk 10:41). That “one thing” is God. Only God is necessary in his own being, and only our relationship with him is absolutely necessary for our being.
I don’t know any specific facts about you. I don’t know your present life, whether you’re believer or unbeliever, saint or sinner, young or old. I don’t know your past. I don’t know your future, what the rest of your life in this world will be like or whether you’ll spend eternity in heaven or in hell. Only one concrete fact do I know with certainty about you: You will die.
The Church knows that about you too, but the Church also knows the meaning of death. The Church comes to you as a newspaper reporter with a startling piece of good news about death — and life after death — from the Man who claimed to be God and proved it by rising from death. The skeptic asks, “What do you know about life after death anyway? Have you ever been there?” And the Catholic answer is: “No, but I know Someone who has, and I believe him.” We Catholics know Him — that is the essential thing we know and the essential reason to be a Catholic — and therefore we know the meaning of death, through his witnesses, his apostles and their successors, the Church.
Death is both very bad and very good (if we are in Christ). It’s very bad because what is lost is very precious: life, the body, the whole world to the individual who dies. Christ wept at his friend Lazarus’ grave, and so should we if we love life as He did. But death is also very good if we die in Christ, because what is gained is infinitely more than what is lost. For if we live in Christ, death means only more of Christ and more of life. This body dies, like a precious little seed, but a greater body rises, like a greater and glorious plant (see Jn 12:24 and 1 Cor 15:35-53).
PETER KREEFT, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, is the best-selling author of over 75 books. This column is reprinted with permission from the book Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press, 2001).
It is in regard to death that man’s condition is most shrouded in doubt. In a sense, bodily death is natural, but for faith it is in fact “the wages of sin.” For those who die in Christ’s grace, it is a participation in the death of the Lord so that they can also share his Resurrection.
Death is the end of earthly life. Our lives are measured by time, in the course of which we change, grow old and, as with all living beings on earth, death seems like the normal end of life. That aspect of death lends urgency to our lives: Remembering our mortality helps us realize that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfillment.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1006, 1007