Death of the Afterlife

Such issues notwithstanding, limbo remains the most compelling solution to a theological conundrum. And, while the all those who enter hell are warned to abandon hope, the Church hasn’t abandoned hope for the infants in limbo. As the Catechism states, “As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.”

Purgatory as Sanctification: Purgatory is traditionally defined as the place where Christians are purged of any remaining stains of sin prior to entering heaven. This completes the process of sanctification that Christians began on earth but that most, except for the saints, did not finish before their death. As with hell, this definition is correct yet it does not tell the whole story. Ultimately, the whole point of purgatory is to prepare us for the beatific vision of God. In order to understand why we need such an intense spiritual cleansing, we have to reach back to Exodus 30, where Moses asks to see “God’s glory.” God replies: “Thou canst not see my face: for man shall not see me and live.” God shows Moses mercy in sparing his life and allowing Moses to see only His back. The same principle is behind purgatory. As one Catholic blogger has written: “So great is God’s heavenly glory, that we would not be able to stand in His eternal presence if we still had ‘an unhealthy attachment to creatures’ and attachment to sin.” (It’s also worth noting that as with hell, John Paul II indicated that purgatory was more a state of being than a physical place.)

Heaven as Communion: Heaven is the one place in the afterlife most people still believe in, but they pretty much get the rest of it wrong. Aside from faithful Christians, most folks probably think of it as simply a place of eternal bliss. It is, but only because those in heaven will enjoy communion with God—what traditionally is called the “beatific vision.” This is such an awesome thing to contemplate that even Lewis shrunk back from describing it in The Great Divorce. Instead, he offers readers only a glimpse of the beatific vision from a great distance as an “unchanging sunrise”:

One dreadful glance over my shoulder I essayed—not long enough to see … the rim of the sunrise that shoots Time dead with golden arrows and puts to flight all phantasmal shapes. … The light, like solid blocks, intolerable of edge and weight, came thundering upon my head.

Lewis’ fleeting glance at the beatific vision leaves us hungering for more. May all of us nurture such longings as we daily strive to come closer to the Light of the World.

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Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on and A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at

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