Pope Francis on the End of Time

CNS and News.va report on Pope Francis speaking on the end of time today at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square:

At the end of time, he said, “we will be face to face” with God. “It’s beautiful to think about this, isn’t it, to think about heaven. All of us will be there, all of us. It’s beautiful and gives us strength.”

Hmmm, all of us? Does this mean Francis follows von Balthasar on this question, who famously asked (and answered affirmatively), Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? (The ensuing dustup brought about the clarification that the key word is “hope,” not “claim.”)

Or did Francis mean “all of us here in St. Peter’s Square today”? (A few thousand were gathered under umbrellas, we’re told.)

Or “all of us Catholics”? I don’t think so.

Or maybe the sense is that “all of us who will be there will be there”? That would save it. At least for those busily twisting themselves into pretzels the last 20 months trying to saving Francis from his seemingly untraditional comments. I doubt he had such logical contortions in mind.

So… what is it? Just asking.

FWIW, here’s my hunch: Francis is a nice guy, a pastor at heart, who is filled with God’s love, and he can’t help from it spilling out all over. Probably best to read his comments in that sense, rather than search for a precise doctrinal formulation.

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Oh good. I see that the pope believes in purgatory. I personally think that, at the ecumenical bargaining table going forward, so to speak, we Catholics can’t negotiate away purgatory.

Pope Francis said this today:

We are always invited to offer good deeds, prayer and the Eucharist itself to alleviate the suffering of souls who are still waiting for the bliss without end.

One of my pet peeves is preachers who reassure mourners that “So-and-so is in heaven now.” Really? Then why are we offering the Eucharistic sacrifice for the deceased at the funeral, and why are we using orations of the Missal that claim no such thing? I wonder if such well-meaning happy-talk priests realize just how much of the whole Catholic theological and liturgical edifice they’re undermining with their casual generosity.

I feel a bit small-minded complaining about this, as if I want my God to be less loving, as if I want to extract more punishment from other people. I hope it’s not that. I just believe that growth doesn’t stop at death, that God isn’t done with us yet. And that the grave doesn’t separate us from the deceased and that’s why we can pray from them. And of course they’re outside of time, so we needn’t worry too much about (or try to understand) how it is that we pray “now” for those who are at some point “already” in heaven. There’s no “now” and “already” over there.

So how about we make this rule? You can and should say all the most happy, positive, generous, and loving things you can think of about the fate of beloved deceased. Just make it a hope, not a claim. Keep in mind that the judgment of the world has been given over to the Son of Man, not to the Catholic priest or lay minister. Make it a confident hope, that is the proper Christian spirit. But don’t say “Anthony is in heaven.” Say something like “I’m sure our loving God will bring Anthony to himself in heaven,” or “God is merciful and wants Anthony and all of us to be with him forever,” or “Let’s pray for Anthony, confident that God forgives all sins.”

Whaddayathink? Do I need a bit more of Francis’ generous, pastoral spirit? Am I being too logical?

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24 comments

  1. What kind of a service was offered for The Little Flower when she died? Do you think they did not pray for her with the prayers used for everyone else? Every saint who has died in the last 400 years has probably had the Eucharist offered for them. The prayers at their funerals no doubt did not claim they were saints, but like us, in need of forgiveness. So the inappropriateness of our prayers is not a good argument that the deceased is not a saint.

    Of course, that is how I hope it is, though I sound as if I am claiming it is so.

  2. Dogma separates people. Live as compassionately as you can, caring especially for those who mourn, those who suffer, those in need.

  3. Purgatory has always been a very comforting belief to me. Heaven wouldn’t be very heavenly if it was full of people like me, and I don’t expect to be done getting holy when I die. I want heaven to consist of living wholly and holily with God and with everyone I know, including people (like me) who really aren’t all that holy right now. I’m very glad God provides a way for us to sanctify ourselves post mortem.

  4. I can’t believe in purgatory … it seems just made up out of whole cloth. Nothing in the NT about it and instead Jesus tells the thief next to him that he would be in paradise that day. Also it makes no sense to me that our prayers are needed for those who are dead … the ideas that it’s God’s nature to forgive and yet still punish rather than transform with love, that by certain acts like walking through a jubilee door or praying for the pope’s intentions, rather than an honest change of heart, we can buy ourselves and others out of some of this purgatorial punishment, is disturbing.

  5. Anthony,

    I guess I could do a novena that obtains a plenary indulgence, and (since prayer can work outside of time) I could ask God to apply it to you at the hour of death.

    Then I could say “Anthony’s in heaven,” right?

  6. In my parish the pp insists on BLACK (only) vestments for requiems and funerals as “I do not know that (s)he is in heaven.”

    Of course, if he goes to a Requiem for a deceased diocesan dignitary, he has to wear a white diocesan chasuble like his fellow priests. Since he is totally opposed to concelebration, I suspect in those circumstances he withholds his intention and performs exteriorly.

    It’s a point of view!

  7. Tradition tells us fairly precisely and unanimously how many end up in heaven and how many in hell: look at any last judgment lintel of any cathedral, or any last judgment painting that I’m aware of, and you will see that it’s 50-50.

  8. 1. I have a hard time believing in any perfection when the perfect God creates imperfect me. Not a knock on God at all – I’m just saying our definition of perfect lacks a bit. I think of God as perfect in love, but a perfection creating an imperfection doesn’t really make sense.

    2. I can’t understand why death, which takes us beyond the temporal world (i think we can agree on that) requires a temporal punishment to be issued for any reason. Are we beyond time or aren’t we?

    3. I can’t understand why God needs appeasement to complete God’s love for us. I do like your statement that God continues to teach/love/grow us.

    4. Anyone who tells you that we “know” about the life after death is either fooling you or fooling himself. Learning from tradition is a marvelous, blessed tool. Pretending that we hear the muffled whisperings of the Holy Spirit perfectly doesn’t stand up to our own history.

    Conclusion: death ends in peace if you truly love, and may not if you don’t. Purgatory remains possible, but I’m not worried about a temporal punishment once I’m beyond time, unless God says so. Then I’ll (hopefully ) trust in the same things I trust in today. It still scares the bleep out of me. But if gaining the presence of God requires predicting heaven properly, we are all in trouble. So love.

    Whew! I feel better now.

  9. Can we agree that we don’t really know what goes on after we die? If you believe in a loving God, shouldn’t you have faith that whatever happens will be appropriate and good?

  10. Why do we think of purgatory as a experience of punishment? If it is purging us (purifying), how can that be punishment? The suffering referred to by Pope Francis may be suffering because they are not yet perfected and so anxious to be so.

    When reflecting about Purgatory, I always think of Mitch Albom’s book The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Although as a Catholic , I would re-title it The Five People You Meet in Purgatory.

  11. The experience of purgatory is considered suffering because there is a sense of loss, both of being (for a time) deprived of the beatific vision, and of undergoing a “painful” purging away of those attachments and desires that make one still not wholly fit for heaven. We can speak of being “punished” in purgatory because the experience is a penalty of sorts, a delay of the ultimate goal of being in heaven.

    St. Catherine of Genoa has an interesting and pious treatise on the experience of purgatory. She calls it a place of joy, because the souls there have certitude of their impending entry into heaven, even despite the suffering they are undergoing as they are being cleansed.

  12. Jeffrey,

    What does a ‘delay’ mean if one is in a timeless state? How might a soul experience that? Does time exist in heaven, purgatory, or hell? Or is the very concept of time a limitation of our human minds and the physical [?} world we inhabit? I ask very sincerely; the questions are simultaneously philosophical and hard-physics technical – but I could accept that we don’t ‘presently’ come close to having the tools to articulate a meaningful response. After all, Einstein answered questions that Newton could not even think to ask. . .

    1. @Lynn Thomas – comment #18:
      I wasn’t sure if I should use the word “delay” or not, since it carries a temporal sense with it. I am just conjecturing here, but I would say it is a delay of sequence: one thing happens before another; that is, one thing happens as a pre-condition of another. Whether that means there must be an experience of time, or of the passing of time, I do not know for sure. Perhaps souls apart from bodies still experience temporality?

  13. It’s interesting that St. Catherine of Genoa profoundly envisions Purgatory as a state of absolute lack of self-reference: “The souls who are in Purgatory cannot turn their thoughts back to themselves, nor can they say, ‘Such sins I have committed…’ They can have neither of themselves nor of others any memory…They cannot see that they are in pain because of their sins.”

    So (as #12 notes) Purgatory cannot be understood as a state of temporal punishment or of penance because the soul has no memory of sins for which it would be doing penance or receiving punishment. Neither can it be a “a way for us to sanctify ourselves post mortem” (#4) because we have no awareness of “self”. Also, the saint says that what happens there is all of God, in such words as, “Being in that fire of Purgatory, they are within the divine ordinance, which is pure charity, and in nothing can they depart thence for they are deprived of the power to sin as of the power to merit.” Souls are not there being purged of “attachments and desires” (#17) because, again, they have absolutely no memory of these nor of a “self” to have experienced them.

    According to the saint, what we are “reduced to”, so to speak, is the naked, pristine, God-created soul, “pure, simple, and clean of all stain of sin” and “without the guilt of sin”; yet as if “covered” by a kind of “residue” (she says, “rust”) of sin which God breaks through as He “flows into these souls more and more as [this] hindrance to His entrance is consumed.” This inflowing of God into the soul awakens in it an innate “beatific instinct” which “grows unceasingly” and irresistibly in response to God’s love. The suffering of Purgatory arises from the awakening soul’s increasing awareness of it’s separation from God. It is the pain of longing, desire -nostalgia.

  14. The scriptures are filled with images of the end of time, all of which have in common one thing: God is in charge. Not you or me, not bishops or popes, not professors or theologians.

    Several years ago in late May, I had a wonderful pastoral and theological conversation with a young boy — perhaps 9 or 10 — whose best friend died in a tragic accident just a few days earlier on Mothers’ Day in his friend’s back yard. The boy’s mom was concerned that he did not seem to grasp the reality of what was going on, in that he wasn’t grieving the way she expected or that she would. (Projection much?) I invited her to bring him to talk with me, and after she asked him about it, he came in to chat.

    I asked him if he wanted to talk to me with his mom there, or if he’d prefer to talk alone, and he said the latter so Mom sat outside the office as we talked. After an initial “so, what happened to your friend on Mothers’ Day?” opening, I could see that he had a good grasp on the facts of what had happened, but that something was troubling him. Before I could ask him about that, he put it right out there. “Pastor, I don’t doubt that my friend is in heaven. He was baptized and I know God loves him. But if I live to be 80 before I get to heaven, will I be an old man in heaven and he’ll be a kid? Will we recognize each other? What will it be like?”

    We talked about all kinds of biblical passages and stories about heaven and the last days. Isaiah 25 paints a picture of a rich feast on God’s holy mountain to which all people come, and the tears will be wiped away from every face. Matthew 25 tells of all nations coming to the heavenly throne, and all of them are surprised. Revelation tells of the heavenly city. We have all these poetic, metaphorical pictures, but if we start to take them literally, they inevitably contradict each other.

    What is consistent, though, is that God is in control, and that God’s ultimate desire is for wholeness and life. HOW God does that is up to God, though we still try to play God…

  15. I admit that I enjoy when Pope Francis says something that sends the super-orthodox among us into a “spittle-flecked nutty,” as one of our fellow bloggers might say.

  16. I recall something of Origen’s eschatological viewpoint–a term he called apokatastasis, that is the return of all rational creatures to their original state or being. Too complex and deep to go into here, but it is a doctrine full of hope and joy.

    I am also reminded by our Creed that Christ harrowed hell when he descended there, that is if we can call there “there”. Heaven/Paradise, purgatory and hell are not physical places but spiritual states of being.This part of the Creed expresses how the Cosmic Christ fulfills the very Word of God. (Numbers 23:14; Isaiah 55:11; Matthew 24:35)

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