“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but ... I believe God will ask us, 'How much LOVE did you put into what you did on earth?' ” —Mother Teresa
Last month, Rabbi Joshua Boettiger guided us through a careful consideration of the afterlife, drawing on the dialogue between Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) in On Heaven and Earth, which captures their conversations.
Rabbi Joshua made a number of key points in his thoughtful inquiry.
The underlying truths of Catholicism and Judaism on this topic are strikingly similar.
Both faith traditions hold that our lives, albeit mysteriously transformed, continue after we die.
“ ... We have absolutely no clue as to what that [next life] will look like or even mean.”
Citing Rabbi Skorka, Rabbi Joshua points to “some kind of transcendence here in this world.” There seems to be a continuum between life here and life beyond.
We get glimpses of an afterlife, “when we are most alive and attuned to G-d and to one another.”
“ ... Our views about death and what happens to the soul afterward say a lot about our values in this life.”
Judaism does not hold to a doctrine of individual salvation. Rather, “it is all of us or none of us.”
As I considered the richness of Rabbi Joshua’s thinking on death and the afterlife, it dawned on me that the “connective tissue” between this life and the next, between heaven and earth, is love.
Mother Teresa taught her spiritual followers that God is love and that our being made in God’s image and likeness compels us to love others, as we love ourselves. For her, it was to see and serve God in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor in the streets and gutters of Calcutta and around the world.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and his secretary, John Peter Eckermann, had a series of conversations, which the latter narrated and published as “Conversations with Goethe” in the late eighteenth century. In one conversation, Goethe muses about the matter of an afterlife. I remember reading this account during my undergraduate college years, and being struck by its empirical, phenomenological wisdom. Goethe reasoned that one cannot imagine that the spirit of a human being—so capable of thought, imagination, resourcefulness, and creativity—would cease to exist at death.
This intangible, but real energetic quality of being human reaches its truest and highest form in love—the capacity to unite oneself to God and to others, and to both wish and work for what is best for each and all. This love, in Catholic thought, has God as its constant origin. And, it is actualized by us as God’s co-workers, God’s collaborators.
Recently, a friend shared a story. She was at church with her family, when a 35-year-old woman (and mother) experienced a massive heart attack. People who were assembled immediately mobilized to address the emergency needs of the woman, and to provide compassionate support to the woman’s family (husband and three children).
The faith community rallied quickly, even spontaneously. Love compelled them.
Whatever heaven is or isn’t, looks like or doesn’t, we all can spend ourselves in loving others. If we resonate with Goethe’s insight about the human spirit continuing after natural death, we can intimate another sphere, where love prevails and pervades.
Heaven and earth are united in our love.
— Daniel Murphy fosters human flourishing through positive life coaching in Ashland and beyond.