For centuries there has been so much speculation as to where a soul goes after someone dies. The common modern-day interpretation is that regardless of whether someone lived a good life or a bad life, it’s generally considered by most of society that once dead, that person is in Heaven. Note that ‘a good life’ in the meaning of the author, is considered one that was lived according to the teachings of Moses, Jesus Christ and the Holy Catholic Church. The author does not write to represent the full teaching of the Catholic Church but rather from a catholic layman’s point of view.
Where did this concept of going straight to Heaven regardless of one’s disposition at death come from? Was it from Looney Tunes cartoons since they portrayed this? Is it because people are so sad at the loss of their loved-one that they can’t bear to think that the deceased could be anywhere but Heaven? Has society ruled out the existence of Purgatory and Hell, but maintained a belief in Heaven?
The concept of believers seem to be that when someone dies, they are met face-to-face with Jesus who will show them all the bad things they have done and all the good things that they should have done throughout their lifetime. These things would determine the ultimate place, or more correctly, the ultimate ‘state’ of that soul. This is their Judgment. It seems more fitting to refer to a soul as being in the ‘state’ of either Heaven, Hell or Purgatory rather than ‘places’ because they exist in the spiritual domain that is outside of time and space.
Also, there is a concept among some that it is the person’s, or soul’s, decision during their Judgment (i.e. after death) as to whether they choose to be in Heaven or not. It’s far more likely that this ‘decision’ is made during one’s lifetime. The reason for seeing one’s life during Judgment could be a way of showing that the actions and decisions throughout their life has led to the person’s ultimate decision as to whether they want to be with God for all eternity, or not. This would then show the great importance of living a good life and show that every responsible decision we make in life is an outcome of a ‘test’ that God sets before us. In other words, after death, it’s too late to decide!
According to the Catholic Church, generally all of the dead should be prayed for because unless there is some sort of special process that determines whether a soul is either in Heaven or Hell, then we simply just don’t know. The process for determining whether a soul is in Heaven is Canonization. If a process exists for determining whether a soul is in Hell or not, then only under the guidance of the Catholic Church with specially trained Catholic clergy would it be safe to do so. Anybody trying to contact the dead through means of séances and the like, in ways that are not taught by the Church, and are not trained with a good foundation and understanding are opening themselves to great danger for themselves and those around them! Please don’t let your children play around with things of this sort!
So why does the Church pray for the dead? The Catholic belief (and all Catholics are obligated to believe this), is that any soul not condemned but is not cleansed of all sin cannot yet enter in to Heaven. They go through a ‘state’ of the soul we call Purgatory. Therefore, Purgatory can be described as being a state where a soul is undergoing purification by willingly accepting to be cleansed by the burning Love of God. According to St. Faustina Kowalska, the greatest torment in Purgatory is the longing for God. This brings us to what mankind needs most of all – God’s mercy.
Jesus explained in St. Faustina’s Diary that no matter how bad a life is led, God’s mercy is so great that even at the last moment of one’s life, if the person truly felt great remorse for the wrong they did throughout their life and honestly begged God to forgive them, God has promised that He would show mercy to them, which would lead them on their way to eventually be in Heaven. There’s no way of tricking God into this. His ‘foolishness’ is greater than our wisdom. This is why we shouldn’t judge anyone who has died. We shouldn’t say, “that person is in hell.” That would only prevent people from praying for the deceased. And the deceased definitely want our prayers. They need our prayers to help them to reduce their Purgatory so that they can enjoy the absolute bliss of spiritual perfection in the glory of Heaven with God the Father.
The greatest intercessor that the Church teaches us to obtain help from is the Holy Mother of God. Her role has been of the greatest importance since the incarnation of Christ. Calling on her often, especially towards the end of one’s life can offer tremendous help as we pass from this life to Eternal Life.
Further information on the message and devotion of God’s mercy can be obtained from http://www.divinemercy.com.au.