In recent years, we’ve heard references to the concept of reincarnation. This is the theory that the soul or spirit, after death, begins a new life in a new body depending on the moral quality of the person’s previous life. This doctrine is a central tenet of Indian religions. It is also a common belief of various ancient and modern religions such as Spiritism. The idea of reliving one’s life is a curious one. It causes more than a few people to wonder, Is that really possible? But what is Catholic teaching on the idea?
Our belief is that there is no such thing as reincarnation. The Church has always taught, as St. Paul wrote in Hebrews 9:27, that we live once, we die once, and then there is judgment. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states very simply: “There is no reincarnation” (1013).
God gives life to every human being. At the moment death, the soul of the person passes from the life of a pilgrim on earth to everlasting life in eternity. In other words, there are no “do-overs” once the earthly journey is complete.
Facing the Truth
Our decisions prior to death are what determine our eternal destiny. We know God offers salvation to all. God never rejects anyone. In the same way, Jesus died for everyone—even those who were crucifying and mocking him. Furthermore, throughout every person’s life, there are graces given within the circumstances of his or her life.
No one will be able to say, “I never had a chance” or “God failed me.” Life is never about begging for God’s love and grace in vain; it is always a matter of a person’s accepting or rejecting the abundant grace that is offered.
An image we often think of is God sitting on a judge’s bench ready to hand down an appropriate judgment. There is no bench justice in judgment. There is only self-judgment. In other words, in seeing God face-to-face, we see the truth of ourselves, our lives, and the decisions we made. Keep in mind that those judgments a person made in life are the ones he also takes with him after death.
Heaven and Hell
People balk at the idea of anyone choosing hell over heaven. Why would anyone do that? Think of it as a person not choosing God. It is not God who sends people to hell. It is not God who puts up barriers. It is people who reject, who erect barriers.
But those in hell have a major pain with which to deal. I’m not talking about a burning fire since that is an image Scripture uses to show intense pain. The pain of hell is that those who reject God can’t get away from God. They want God to leave them alone, but God continues to love them. They suffer the greatest pain of all.
The utter confusion, helplessness, and inability to escape the God they reject, as the saying goes, “That’s the hell of it!” And it never ends!