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Bishop's Column - Afterlife

Trust in the Afterlife to Which God Invites Us

As I watch my parents ages, 91 and 90, it has occurred yet again to me that death is awaiting them. Mom, who has some dementia, often says out loud, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” a part of the prayer we older folks were all taught in order to seek their help at the hour of our death. In my reflections, it has struck me that too many do not think about death, do not think about what is to come after death.

One of the common refrains spoken by those who eulogize their beloved is that the deceased will live on in our memories. Family tree research has always been fun for me. I do have a personal memory from my childhood of only one of my great-grandparents. Does this mean that the other great-grandparents are now somehow nonexistent, since there is no living memory of them? Is this the fate of all of us? It causes me to wonder whether we have lost a sense that this life is not all that there is, that there is not only another life after this, but that it is, in fact, better, assuming we get there.

Blaise Pascal, a French theologian and scientist, once wrote: “You must wager … Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that he is.” This is called Pascal’s wager. If you bet on God and an afterlife and it is true, you have won great happiness. If you bet against God and an afterlife and yet this is all true, you lose all. If you bet on God and an afterlife and it turns out not to be true, you have really lost nothing, except some possible fleeting pleasures as you have tried to live a good life.

Death faces all of us and is the end of this life. We do not live on somehow in others’ memories or in monuments or statues or even in the works we have created, even be they great art. For that which is most central to our lives here, that is, our friendships and love, our hopes and dreams, our faith and hope and charity, leave this world. None of that continues on in this world as we have particularly and uniquely lived it.

So, I live for the next life, the more important life, the life where all that is at the very heart of my own personal existence, all that is truly good about me, will endure for eternity and will be valued and treasured by God, the only one who can truly know and love me.

If we all see this life as a preparation for something much greater, then we need a guide, and that guide is Jesus Christ, who has called himself the way and the truth and the life. And we are not alone. He gave us his body, his Church, to accompany us on this journey. We really are just pilgrims here, passing on the way. I don’t go to casinos, but I will lay a wager on God and the afterlife to which he invites us.