Fr Paul Chetcuti SJ explains the meaning and the Catholic vision of afterlife and heaven, of what happens when you die.
“Afterlife is pure relationship without the brokenness we experience in this world..”
When I die, I will be liberated from my bodily needs because relationship itself becomes the beginning and the end of all that I am. In what we call heaven, I do not lose my identity but I will discover my identity as Paul, because I have found what you mean to me and what I mean to you.
I will discover what my mother, father etc means to me and what I mean to them in its totality; what is special for me in my relationship with my friends. We are too small yet to experience the same oneness of the afterlife now, because in this world we are limited and we cannot experience everything. To reconcile what is precious for me and what is precious for you is sometimes very hard due to our differences and limitations.
When I die, these things are conquered. We experience perfect reconciliation of all the differences. This is what St. Paul means when he says that God becomes everything for everyone.
“We will keep not loose our bodily identity, the body is transformed but not discarded”
To arrive at this stage we do not renounce and lose what we had when we were alive, with our limitations. This is so because our identity is formed from all these limitations that you are a woman, I am a man, that your eyes are brown and mine are blue. That is essential, none of this is lost. So if you had brown eyes it will remain a part of your identity, the way that your brain works is part of your story. No person can be a person without a story.
After he resurrected Jesus ate fish. In this event we notice that this new resurrected life which I have is not in spite of these limitations which I have to eat, like the apostles had to eat but it is thanks to. Had I not a need to eat etc, then I would have become a ghost, an idea. It is the body which makes an idea real. This is also mentioned in the Bible, the “resurrection of the bodies .
So when we die, the body has been transformed but not abandoned or discarded. The experience that our spirit was born and nurtured in a body, that experience will remain, our body will carry that experience. So, Jesus, to show that he was not an idea in the air, asked for food and showed the signs of the nails. But it was a transformed body.
“In this life we already partially experience having a transformed body”
Transformed body, though we find hard to understand, we have already partially experienced it. The experiences of play that I did when I was a child or in my mother’s womb, are all memories in my body. The body has memory. There is continuity between the body that I have today and the body I had when I was a 3yr old. But the body I had as a 3yr old has disappeared completely. When I look at my nails, though somewhat the same I cannot say that they are the same nails that I had when I was 3 yrs old, I have cut so much of it and threw away. My heart today is not the same which I had back then, but it’s still the same heart. The same can be said for all the parts of my body. The link which I have between my body today and my body back then is neither the cells nor my specifications, but all these parts make me, me, Paul. There is continuity in change. This is talk about the spiritual life. Like when Jesus said see how the spirit cannot be spirit without a body?
When we die and all the body ceases, we would have arrived at a stage where the spirit can assume to have a voice without having the need to have vocal chords, tongue etc. How, I don’t know. The mistake we do is that, we either say – that the body is not important but the soul is, like in olden times when people want to almost become a spirit, today it’s the opposite , the body has taken such a central place that it is the other extreme, the body has almost become just a cover, a facade. Like Descartes the philospher did, he found identity only in thought, cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am), I find it very much superficial. So, we create a dichotomy, something which we did so much as Church. Our spirit is not an entity in a cover.
I cannot think about anything , say justice with the consciousness of the body. My body is an integral part of what is my sense of justice. What Jesus said whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers, you have done unto me. Love cannot be just a sentiment, it means that I wash you, I give you clothes etc These are all spiritual experiences which are forming our souls. Because our body is the way in which we can enter in a relationship with others. This is why the Church insists so much that every human being should be born out of a relationship because the body is destined to become relationship so it needs to come from a relationship.