By: Paul Murano – November, 2013
November is the month when religious traditions remember the dead. It is a fitting month to do so. The clock gets turned back an hour and the world becomes a darker place; leaves fall, grass dies, birds evacuate, and various mammals hibernate until spring. Death is in the air in November. And yet, it is both peaceful and hopeful. The holidays on the horizon remind us that death is temporary, and daylight becomes longer each day beginning in December.
There are two things to consider about death in human beings – the disembodied soul and the resurrection of the dead. The first can be discerned through reason while the latter depends on divine Revelation.
Before looking at these claims we should first look at the two extremes of human nature common in history. The first is that man is purely material and completely vanishes when the body dies. This view is popular with modern atheism and secular humanism. The other extreme is that man is really his soul; his body is just a temporary covering like clothing, or even worse, like a prison from which he is freed upon death. This body/person dualism is popular among Platonists, Buddhists, and contemporary new-age philosophies, lending itself to the notion of reincarnation.
The traditional western view of man avoids these two extremes and sees the human being as a body-soul composite, with the spiritual soul being the form of the body, possessing intellect and will. This view sees death as separation of soul from body as the result of sin, to be remedied in the resurrection of the body at the end of history when Christ comes back as just Judge.
The soul survives bodily death but anticipates its reunion with the body in its glorified state. This view of man, the middle of the two extremes, is the faith underscoring the Christian heritage that built western civilization to its zenith.
Catholics remember the souls of the dead especially on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, specifically memorializing the souls in heaven and purgatory respectively. The souls in hell are not celebrated. Only that which is perfectly pure can enter the fullness of the presence of God in heaven, hence purification in purgatory is for those who leave this life in union with God but are still suffering the lingering effects of sin.
It is beyond sad that new-age philosophy has permeated popular thought so much so that “everyone goes to heaven” upon death. This happy-talk masquerades as Christian doctrine and can be heard at wakes, among friends, and in casual conversations if you just scratch the surface. It is a terrible mistake. Although it may serve as consoling language to the grieving, it is detrimental to both the living and the dead. If “everyone goes to heaven” the living have little motive to seek to live God’s will, and the dead get seriously shortchanged with no one praying for them.
All Souls Day reminds us that while the souls in hell are lost forever and the saints in heaven are praying for us to avoid damnation, the souls in purgatory depend on our prayers for relief. God has designed it that like cells in a living body, all affect each other’s eternal destiny within the mystical body of Christ by their prayers and sacrifices.
May we resist the politically correct and detrimental notion that everyone automatically goes to heaven. The fate of many souls living and dead may depend on it.