What Will Happen after Death?

I was coming from Secunderabad in a second class compartment of Ahmedabad bound train. When I got up in the morning after a sound sleep, I started reading from the Bible according to my usual custom. People reading a book has become a rare sight in the train. In fact I was the only person reading book in my compartment. Then, I realized that some co-passengers were watching me. After closing my Bible I was in a meditative mood enjoying the sceneries outside from my window seat. Trees, creepers and other plants were running at break neck speed in the opposite direction of my super fast train.

Then, a young man sitting next to me asked, “Sir, Is the book which you were reading is the Bible? I saw you reading it yesterday too before you went to sleep. Are you a Christian?”

“Yes. I am a Christian. The book which I was reading is the New Testament of the Bible”. I gave a short response to my co-passenger as I was not in a mood to talk as I was pondering the Gospel passage.

But my young friend must have felt encouraged by my short, clear answer to his question. So he asked me again, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Yes, you may ask. What is your name?”

“My name is Ramakrishna Reddy. I am an Engineer working in a company at Jamnagar. I would like to ask you, what happens after death?”

I was reading my Gospel book in Gujarati. But our conversation so far was in Hindi. But I felt that to give a satisfactory answer to my young friend’s question my knowledge of Hindi is inadequate. “Mr. Reddy, you are an Engineer. So you may know English. My Hindi is not powerful enough to answer your question about what happened after life. So is it okay with you if I speak in English?

“Yes, Okay Sir. What is your name?”

“My name is Fr. Varghese Paul.”

“So you are a Priest?”

“Yes, I am a Christian Priest. Among Catholic Christians there is a Religious Order (group) called Society of Jesus’ and I am its member. Thus after giving a short introduction about myself I told Ramakrishna that in Catholic religion according to the Bible we believe in a new life after death.

In our creed we Christians accept and proclaim that, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”. So for us Christian’s life does not end with death but life is only changed into an everlasting life. We Christians believe in three different stages of life.

The first stage is the life on earth. We are all travelers in this life trying to lead a good life, combating our evil tendencies and the evil. The second stage is that of saints who have led a good life on earth and have attained salvation or heaven or eternal life enjoying the company of the Risen Lord Jesus. The third stage is called purgatory. It is a stage of spiritual cleansing after death before entering heaven. Purgatory is for people who have not done any deadly sin or have repented of their deadly sin; still they have died without being completely atoned for the offenses they have committed against God and fellow men.

Then, the Christians believe that these souls in purgatory cannot help themselves but the Christians on earth can help them through their prayers, sacrifices and good works on their behalf.

In other words, we Christians believe in new, changed new life after death. So we have great respect for death and we show it by taking care of their tombs. We pray daily for them; we sacrifices and do good works on their behalf.

For instance, we read the biblical book of Maccabees, “They begged him that this sin might be completely blotted out. Then, Judas, that great man, urged the people to keep away from sin, because they had seen for themselves what had happened to those men who had sinned. He also took up a collection from all his men, totaling about two kilogrammes of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for sin-offering. Judas did this noble thing because he believed in the resurrection of the dead. If he had not believed that the dead would be raised, it would have been foolish and useless to pray for them. In his firm and devout conviction that all God’s faithful people would receive a wonderful reward, Judas made provision for a sin-offering to set free from their sin those  who had died” (2 Maccabees 12: 42-45).

I did not have the Bible with me to read the above passage to Ramakrishna. So I told him that I have a small booklet, “What Does Jesus Mean to You and Me?”  The story of Jesus’ death on the Cross and his glorious Resurrection on the third day will give you a fair idea of Christian belief in life after death. I have the booklet in Hindi and in English.

From my bag I took out one copy each of the booklet.

Ramakrishna took the booklet in English. A third fellow passenger, who was keenly listening to our conversation, took the Hindi booklet from me. Some other passengers too wanted the booklet on Jesus. But unfortunately I did not have any more copies.

Bible in the New Testament clearly speaks about life after death. Once the Sadducees who did not believe in the life after death asked a question to Jesus about resurrection. They told Jesus the story of seven men who one after another married a woman and died without leaving any child and finally the woman too died. Now, they put the question to Jesus:  “when they all rise again, whose wife she will be as all seven had married her? “

“Jesus answered them, How wrong you are! It is because you don’t know the Scripture or God’s power. For, when the dead rise to life, they will be like the angels in heaven and will not marry.   Now, as for the dead rising to life: haven’t you ever read what God has told you? He said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is the God of living, not of the dead” (Mt 22: 29-32).

In another instance Jesus speaks about Resurrection when Jesus meets his friend Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary. Both the sisters believed in the resurrection after death. After the death of his friend Lazarus Jesus reaches the house of the two sisters. Then, Martha complains to Jesus, “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died”. Then she acknowledges before Jesus, “I know that he will rise to life on the last day”.

“Jesus said to her. ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies’.

“Then Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’

“The dead man came out wrapped in grave clothes. ‘Untie him and let him go’, Jesus said” (see John 11: 1-44).

A disciple of Jesus, who proclaimed Jesus’ life and message far and wide, Paul writes in his letter to the Romans explaining the life after death to the new Christians, “For surely you know that when we were baptized into union with Christ Jesus, we were baptized into union with his death. By our baptism, then, we were buried with him and shared his death in order that, just as Christ was raised from death by the glorious power of the Father, so also we might live  a new life” (see Rom 6: 3-4).

Christians believe that they will receive reward after death according to their life on earth. In the last judgment the people living sinfully will get eternal damnation and the good people will receive eternal life with Jesus. (see Mt 25: 31-46).

Finally, let me end this essay with a quote about death from a famous Spanish poet and writer, Federico Garcia Lorca, “Everywhere else death is an end. Death comes and life flies away. But in Spain the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world”. This quote is seen as a reflection of Christians’ belief and culture in the life after death. (Words 1398)

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Changed On: 01-04-2018

Next Change: 16-04-2018

Copyright Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2018