What happens to us when we die? Do we believe in reincarnation?

I heard a great story recently about two nuns traveling together in a car. As they rode along, they saw off in the distance the devil on a road sign making fun of them. They couldn’t believe it! The first nun says, “What do I do?” The second nun said calmly, “Stay calm, sister, and pray!” Thus, they began to pray. Next, the devil turned into a bat that was flying around the car. Again, the first nun says, “What do I do now?” The second nun said, “Stay calm, sister, and pray.” As she began her prayers, the bat stuck to their windshield! Shocked, the first sister said, “Sister, what do I do now?” The second nun responded, “Quick, show him your cross!” So the first nun rolled down the window and screamed, “Get off the windshield now, you stupid bat!” Sorry about that one.

Fr. Joe, what does the Church teach about cremation? What happens to us when we die? Do we believe in reincarnation?

To the untrained observer, these questions may appear unrelated, but I, the answer man, shall mash them all together to create an answer stew. Brace yourself! The answer to all of these questions can be found in the idea of the value of the human body in the Catholic faith.

First of all, and perhaps most importantly, as Catholics, we believe in the resurrection of the body. That’s right, we believe these bodies are going to heaven some day. Where does this come from? If you look in Genesis, you’ll see that after God finished with creation, He said, “It is good.” He was talking about us, as well as the rest of creation, and no amount of sin on our part can change something God declared. Also, we Catholics believe that when Jesus took flesh. He made all flesh sacred. With all these things in mind, I like to tell people that if I lose weight, I will lose some of my sanctity, but nobody seems to believe me.

Anyway, with this understanding, we know now that we reject any theology that teaches that the body is just a shell or a container for our souls. We believe that this body is sacred and is in fact going to spend an eternity with Jesus. Incidently, that is why we have so many rules about these bodies of ours, but that is a different article ...

Where do we get this theology? Well, we’re Catholic, so we get it from two places. First of all, the Bible. We’ve already looked at Genesis and Jesus taking flesh, but there are other biblical references. In I Corinthians 6:13-15, 19-20, Paul lays down our belief in the resurrection of the body. Read this one; it’s very important. Also in I Corinthians 15:50-56 Paul describes how our “heavenly bodies” will be different (this does not mean perfect abs, I checked).

That covers some of the Sacred Scripture passages, so let’s take a look at the Catechism. In your Catechisms, section 990 states, “The resurrection of the flesh means not only that the immortal soul will live on after death, but that even our mortal body will come to life again.” Also in CCC, see numbers 686, 999-1000.

So, if our bodies are sacred, and in fact destined for heaven, then we have the beginnings of the answers to our questions. Ready? First of all, the Catholic Church rejects the idea of reincarnation. If our bodies are destined for heaven, which one do we get at the resurrection? Our Catechisms say that there is no “pool of souls” for reincarnated beings. For the scripture, please see Hebrews 9:27. Cremation is acceptable in the Catholic Church. The CCC puts it this way: “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body” (2301, emphasis mine). It is important to note that the actual cremation is to be done after the funeral Mass. What happens when we die? That one is a little more involved. Putting it in the briefest possible terms, we will face two judgments; first, the specific judgement at the moment of our death. This is the one you hear all the jokes about “standing before the gates of heaven.” This judgment takes place at our deaths and our souls bear this decision out, but not our bodies (yet!). Secondly, at the end of time, when Jesus returns, all of creation will be judged and our souls will join our bodies at our final destination.

So, treat those bodies right, people – you’re gonna have ‘em forever! Enjoy another day in God’s presence!