Death is a theme that surrounds the Catholic life. In the Mass, we partake of the crucified Christ, remembering his death for our salvation, acknowledging and living the reality that his body brings us salvation and life. We retell the stories of saints—some of whom died gruesome deaths at the hands of others, some who died of disease, some who lived a long life, some who lived a short life, some who simply died of natural causes. We pray for the dead in our liturgies and we perform the corporal work of mercy to bury the dead and the spiritual work of mercy to pray for the dead.
Yet death frightens us. It seems to be something we cannot know about with absolute certainty, and we are frightened by unknowns. Not to mention that the concept of eternity is hard to comprehend for people so imbued with time.
But in his book In Heaven We’ll Meet Again: The Saints and Scripture on Our Heavenly Reunion, Fr. François René Blot, S.J. consoles us about those who have passed before us and what we can expect heaven to be like.
In heaven all know each other
In this letter, Fr. Blot recalls the parable of the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus who know each other in the afterlife (Luke 16:19-31). He then quotes St. Irenaeus who said, “The Lord has revealed to us that in another life souls are mindful of the actions which they performed in this. Does he not teach us this truth in the history of the bad rich man and of Lazarus? For Abraham knows what relates both to one and to the other. Souls continue, then, to know one another, and to remember those things which are here below.” Fr. Blot later in the letter quotes St. John Chrysostom who said, “Do you wish to behold him whom death has snatched from you? Lead, then, the same life as he in the path of virtue and you will soon enjoy that blessed sight. But you would wish to see him even here. Ah! Who prevents you? It is both easy and allowable, if you are virtuous; for the hope of future goods is clearer than the possession itself.”
Let’s pray for sinners, even after their unhappy death
Fr. Blot almost immediately relies on St. John Chrysostom to illuminate this need for us: “Is not this a vain pretext? For if such be the cause of your tears, why did you not make more effort to convert him while he lives? And if he really died a sinner, ought you not to rejoice that he can now no more increase the number of his sins? You must, in the first place, go to his help, as far as you are able, not with tears, but with prayers, supplications, alms, and sacrifices. All these things are indeed not idle inventions. It is not without necessity that in the divine mysteries we commemorate the dead; it is not fruitlessly that we approach the altar with prayers for them to Lamb who takes away the sins of the world; but by these means is consolations showered upon their souls. If Job could purify his children by offering sacrifice for them, how much more must he whom we offer up for our dead give them relief? Is it not one of God’s ways to do good to some out of regard for others? Let us, then, show ourselves eager to aid our dear deceased and earnestly and perseveringly pray for them.”
The family in heaven
Fr. Blot writes: “God has crowned the Christian family with glory and honor, and he causes to shine on its brow the reflection of the three principal mysteries of our religion. How does it commence? With a sacrament––the sacred sign of union of God’s word with human nature, of the union of Jesus Christ with the Church, of the very union of God with the just man. Who has said so? A great pope, Innocent III (1160-1216). Then how does it continue? Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church and delivered himself up for her; wives, love your husbands, as the Church loves Jesus Christ and delivers herself up to him. The great apostle St. Paul has said it (Eph. 5:25). And now you perceive how it ends. By connections whose origin the angels may envy us, so much do they recall those of the Trinity, and of such noble joys are they productive. For man is of man, as God is of God. Who has said it? A great Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas.”
The benefits of remembering our departed loved ones
“But in the infinite mirror of the divine essence,” Fr. Blot writes, “wherein all things are seen, the souls of the blessed principally discern that which concerns those who are attached to them by the closest ties…To deny that we know our own in heaven is then to do much harm, to increase sorrow, and to turn it into faintness of spirit and despair. But to diffuse the important truth now established is to soften affliction, to sustain piety, and to animate zeal…What can be better calculated to maintain piety than these affectionate and confidential relations that may be establishes between us and our dear deceased from the moment we are permitted to hope that, having died in the grace of God, they no more forget us than we forget them?…The remembrance of a virtuous and faithful friend whom we possess in this world is often enough to drive far from us, besides care and sadness, temptation, despair, and all evil thoughts. How much more efficacious and salutary for our souls, then, must be the thought, the frequentation, sometimes even the conversation of those friends and relations who behold the Lord face-to-face and who are in the enjoyment of his glory!”
For a greater understanding of our life after this world and how our relationships with friends and family will stay intact, or for some words of consolation as you grieve, pick up a copy of Fr. François René Blot’s book In Heaven We’ll Meet Again: The Saints and Scripture on Our Heavenly Reunion.