I have been engaging in a lot of reflection on the field of Catholic Eschatology in the past several months. I took a class in January on Creation & Eschatology, and already offered some comments on Creation Theology in reference to an assignment in the class. Over the course of the summer, I have been taking a summer chaplain training certification course, and has caused me to again reflect more tangibly on what Catholic Eschatology is about.
But, before I could offer that, I think there are a lot of misconceptions, or at least, over-simplifications on the topic. Traditionally, it was seen in terms of Hell, Purgatory, & Heaven. Often times, people conceive of these as locations or places, when they are more of a state. Conversely, people conceive of them principally as non-body places. That is, our soul, a pure thing, must escape the flesh/body, and go to the purely spiritual heaven. That is not the Catholic Tradition.
The trouble with this is, is that we, as a culture, have drifted so far from Christianity, that we no longer imagine, or conceive of ourselves as psycho-somatic unions (soul-body) unions, and in that unity we are ourselves. Instead we view ourselves disembodied, and the body as more of a hindrance, or perhaps something to be dismembered by plastic surgeries, and covered in tattoos. (Now don’t get me wrong, I personally like tattoos, but I wonder to the extant that we don’t truly value out bodies).
Even Christians, who become fascinated with the End-Times, and the Second Coming of Christ, imagine a heaven of disembodied Spirits, where the few righteous will be raptured and swept up away from all the sufferings that God’s wrath is just itching to unleash on humanity. In addition, I wonder to what extant their focal concern for Christ’s Second Coming is the result of having no theology of God’s immanence (God’s closeness). The Catholic Imagination is incredibly Sacramental, meaning God is bursting forth in so many moments in history and in the world.
Finally, in the west, Heaven has been conceived of in such shallow terms, that it looses is grandeur and power. For one, we non-challantly throw around stuff like “They are in a better place.” Which obviously offers no real consolation, because all the unjust malevallent villians will be dining with the decent people in a better place. Moreover, the better place, is more like suburban, upper class America, on an endless shopping spree, free of all imaginable inconveniences. Gone is the idea of Communion with the Lord and with our loved ones.
Therefore, your left with one other alternative, in the opposite extreme. Death is the end. Death is violent. Death is merciless. When we die, all is lost, and there is no more. I think I grew up believing in a superficial heaven, but I had not the strength, or confidence in the authority of that believe, to actually believe it. So instead, when I was confronted with death, I stuck with this morbid alternative, simply because it was the only thing that we could actually verify.