Monday, June 22, 2015

The faith on near-death experiences

There is defined Catholic doctrine on the afterlife of course but as far as I know not on near-death experiences in which someone dies temporarily and remembers his experience.
What are Catholics to think of near-death experiences that we often hear about by several sources? I have a skeptical attitude towards what many claim to experience when it comes to near-death experiences for various reasons.

"The four last things" are death, judgment and heaven or hell. Catholic teaching states there are several places that a person can go upon death: Heaven, Purgatory, Hell and possibly of Limbo of the Children, a theological opinion. Many theologians are of the opinion that most people who are saved, who are heaven-bound, need to undergo purification in Purgatory. Furthermore, many theologians and saints are in agreement that sadly many will be lost as well. Scripture itself alludes to the point in many places that nothing unclean will enter Heaven.

With all this being said all these descriptions of near death experiences sound more New Agey than Catholic. Most people who claim to have had near-death experiences come from a variety of backgrounds. Some of them may be Catholic, but many others may be non-Catholic and many others are nonbelievers or non-Christian (pagan). Yet most of them claim that they feel a sense of peace and comfort upon these experiences, so much so that they do not want to come back to earth. There is often no reference to a particular judgment in which traditional Catholic teaching states that we are all judged immediately upon death.

I am naturally skeptical of these accounts for obvious reasons. I doubt that many of these people are without sin or any stain of sin. These accounts almost make it sound like they are going directly to Heaven, which I doubt is the case of even the majority of devout Catholics. Furthermore there is not only no description of Heaven but many of these near-death experience accounts give no account of anything sounding even close to traditional Catholic teaching on different aspects of the Afterlife.

What are you guys' thoughts?
Right; too many modern Catholic funerals are universalist: canonization ceremonies for the deceased, who needs prayers, and/or primarily to make the mourners feel better. On the contrary, no eulogy is allowed for a good reason, and stop calling such Masses "memorial Masses." Bring back our culture: "Requiems." I've been to someone's funeral and actually instead asked her to pray for me. Privately that's fine too.

The Soul After Death by Fr. Seraphim (Rose) is worth a look, with just some Catholic correction required (he was a convert from Methodism by way of the Beat movement and Buddhism to Eastern Orthodoxy: "purgatory is too literal" is stupid and any form of universalism is heresy; hell is final — his version is really purgatory where you can be stuck forever if nobody prays you out). It does a lot to explain near-death experiences. According to Russian folklore, the newly dead are in a natural but spiritual state in "the aerial realm" undergoing the particular judgment ("the aerial toll-houses," actually controversial in Orthodoxy). Parts of this are what people in near-death experiences see and remember. The feeling upon entering it is peace, relief from physical suffering (note, in the image, the angels holding the soul symbolized as a child, right after death). That realm, heaven, and hell (and we add, purgatory and possibly limbo) are states of being, other dimensions in the universe sharing our space which we don't normally see. We don't have to believe all outside the church are going to hell; God is infinitely merciful as well as just. There may be no people in hell but we can't presume it.

Image: Greek icon, "The Mystery of Death." Not to be confused with the the Mexican magic cult born of ignorance, Santa Muerte.

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