Another year goes by, and we have celebrated the feast of All Hallows. My wife and niece came to Mass yesterday, and the homily took the form of a dialogue. The origin of these two days in the liturgical calendar is the old pagan feast of the dead, from whence comes Halloween. The word Halloween simply means the Eve of Hallows, the old English word for saints. To hallow is to sanctify, to fill with God’s grace. The Church “baptised” this pagan celebration like so many others and give Christian meaning to it. A distinction was made between those who are canonised saints and the common lot of mortals whose fate or present situation is unknown to us. We assume that the souls of the departed are in a state of transition, being healed or purged in some way, and in need of our prayers.
This is the year when I lost my mother. As the years pass, our parents, relatives and friends grow old, and each of us takes his or her turn. Death looks so total, so absolute, reflected by the black vestments we use for Requiem masses. To our world where only money matters, death is marginalised and pushed away. Materialism claims that human beings or any living organism is merely a complex system of electro-chemical reactions – and when death occurs, there is just nothing.
I found this quote from Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, late Archbishop of Genoa, which is quite amazing in its depth (I found it here):
Materialists of every sort, even those disguised as theologians, (and they are not a few), thought they would pacify the fear and horror which the cortege of death opens: [in doing so] they have obtained this effect, sadly for them, in rendering the afterlife the most pressing of problems for human life. It is not a small thing, if you think about it , to say that without “eternal life” everything becomes a hoax, a joke, and earthly life has no purpose. With all of this, everywhere, as if dressed in a certain indifference with regard to the substance of the question, many are seeking out ways in furtive exploration of the afterlife: witchcraft, necromancy, spiritism, bearers of extra sensorial perceptions: some, to appear different, even cast libidinous glances on the other side of the “great curtain.” Everyone, apart from the sustainers of materialistic theses, are fascinated by the adventures carried out in proximity to this curtain. It does not mean that God does not allow for extrapolations in things human, especially with the most stupid and most undisciplined creatures – the demons – it is not for nothing that exorcisms exist.
It is not at all impossible, rather it is real, that God wants true contact between Heaven and earth (the Divine Liturgy celebrates some of these illustrious and beneficial contacts), but without opening the direct vision of the afterlife to any mortal. Naturally, with this assertion subjects of elevated mysticism are not understood, when returning to the dimensions of our valley of tears, were not always able to translate that which they had perceived. It is licit then to say, rather to caution, that in all this secular intrigue on the thresholds of eternal life, one is constrained in general, to stay within the boundaries of fancy. The reason is simple. Not one of us would be able to perceive anything material in five dimensions. To introduce into our limited receptive capacities something distinct of eternal life, is much more, infinitely more, than forcing us to reach a universe in five dimensions.
If things were as the materials say, then life would indeed be pointless, a joke. However, we find evidence, independently from Church teaching, that life continues – and not necessary according to the logic of classic Christian soteriology. We are not Christians in order to “save our souls”, but to be transformed and led at a much higher and deeper level.
Cardinal Siri warned us of trying to pry into the secrets of the afterlife whilst remaining in a materialistic outlook in life, not unlike the men of old like King Herod who sought signs and wonders. There is a phenomenon of mischievous spirits who can lead us astray, not only demons – fallen angels who never had bodies – but also humans who have died and who remain caught in some kind of nether-world between this world and the next and operate as ghosts and poltergeists. That is the danger of spiritualism, using ouija boards and “trans-communication” electronic devices to capture attempts of souls in other dimensions to communicate with us. Curiosity can lead us into serious problems, and it is not for nothing that exorcists are called upon to deal with situations that cannot be explained by psychiatric medicine.
We need to take an attitude of humility. We can talk to our departed loved ones like we pray to God and for the intercession of the saints. We can’t see them or hear them, but they are around us – like radio frequencies around a radio set not tuned to them. Strange things sometimes happen without our looking for them, and these are exceptional privileges. I thought I heard my mother’s voice in a half-asleep state, but it was perhaps only my own memory. Things happen in dreams and sometimes in unexpected ways. Most of the time, we can only accept this barrier between our world and other worlds, confident that all will be revealed as we pass through the curtain ourselves. Above all, we are going to discover that there are happy souls who are not there because they were Church Christians, but because they were Christ-like.
We need to review the reason why we are Christians. In considering that it is not about “saving our soul”, the Beatitudes in yesterday’s Gospel took on a whole new meaning. We should be living a life that anticipates the next life, caring for others and the beautiful planet. I find God most at sea, but there are also other beautiful places that man hasn’t yet exploited for money or been able to wreck and ruin. Our thirst for discovery and exploration is also a foretaste of that life that lies beyond the curtain.
Another source of humility is the knowledge that the Church doesn’t have all the answers. Church teaching only has a limited view of the mysteries of heaven, hell and purgatory (or whatever you want to call the “intermediate state”). Other traditions like Hinduism have a much more complete picture. Evidence comes in from many sources, some dubious and others too constant and coherent to dismiss. The afterlife is increasingly seen, not as a matter of faith and belief, but of scientific fact borne out by repeatable experiments.
In particular, those up on quantum physics have discovered that everything is energy, even if it appears to us as matter. Energy is consciousness, and we are all a part of each other and of the whole. Some of us are more conscious of this that others. There are also the experiences of those who have nearly died, and experienced something even though their brains were in a state of deep coma. Many medical doctors have made these discoveries and have been unable to explain them in materialistic terms. There are also mediums, most of them charlatans in it for the money, but a few genuine ones who have accepted rigorous control to eliminate the possibility of fraud. Strange things happen with television sets and tape recorders, as electro-magnetic radio waves are also energy. The direct voice medium is a phenomenon that is particularly mind-blowing. Some of the ectoplasm looks like cheesecloth, but things do happen that are not the result of trickery and stage acting. I keep an open mind, as there are more things in heaven and earth than our dreamt of in our philosophies.
There are many things that defy our understanding or appear to contradict the exclusive “one true church” claims of control over who goes to heaven or hell. The ecclesiastical system can only deny, condemn as heresy, and sometimes give just warnings lest we be deceived by mischievous spirits. We have to be sober, discerning and humble. One of the biggest challenges to our “system” of belief is the idea of reincarnation. Could it be that we go through a series of incarnations before escaping the “cycles” to a more Christian notion of a disembodied afterlife, or rather with a spiritual body like the glorified body of Christ who walked through closed doors, but yet could be seen and touched by the doubting Thomas? The idea of successive incarnations seems to be anathema to us – but some evidence is truly challenging if we look at it rather than deny its existence. Are we prepared to face it and work it out?
The institutional Church has always been concerned to stamp such ideas out as heresy, because it removes people from the control of the “system”, not only over our present life and loyalties but on the “other side” too. Finally, are we Christians through love and desire for beatitude or through servile fear of fire and brimstone? I believe this is the question that will determine the survival of Christianity in a world that has rejected ideologies and totalitarian control – at least those of us not part of the “global elite”.
I’m not saying I believe in reincarnation, but acknowledging that many do! So, let no one get too excited! 😉
An idea that I find most convincing is that of a universal consciousness, perhaps too close to pantheism for comfort, but something that makes us emerge refreshed from the prison of materialism and extreme individualism. We are brought to care for God and spiritual souls in other dimensions and multiverses, but also for other people and our planet. It brings us to another understanding of Christ’s message and the words of the Gospel, a whole new way of understanding the Kingdom of God – pulling us out of our anxiety concerning the fate of institutional Churches that have lost the savour of their salt.
Those are just a few ideas as I remain faithful to the teaching of the Church whilst filling in the gaps and putting colours into the monochrome image. Well there it all is, for each of us to take in moderation and discernment.
I hold various theologoumena which, in some circles, would be considered contrary to the church’s (Orthodox, Roman or Anglican) official teachings of soteriology and eschatology. However, when it comes to reincarnation I draw the line…………….. once is enough for me!
Yes, I don’t really relish the idea of being someone else, with or without money and social status. Those who believe in reincarnation like Buddhists see it as something less than ideal, preferring a more spiritual future.