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Catholic Spiritual Direction

Reincarnation and Human Dignity (Part II of III)

January 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, New Age, Reincarnation

…a reader asks:  Dear Father John, I know that the Church rejects the doctrine of reincarnation, but sometimes I think that reincarnation seems to be a much more merciful approach than just having one chance to live well and go to heaven or to live badly and go to hell. I mean, so many human beings have had to live in such miserable conditions throughout the thousands and thousands of years of human existence. Wouldn’t it make sense to give them a second and a third chance to get it right, by reincarnating them in better conditions, more favorable situations? Is it possible that we start as “baby souls” and live different lifetimes and different incarnations in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? The more we are willing to endure, suffer and sacrifice, the more Christ-like we become and the better our chances of a blissful eternity. Wouldn’t this explain the “old souls” of the world, victim souls (like Little Audrey Santo) and the heroic saints? It sounds like Heaven would be a WEE bit better populated if the system worked this way.

 

In our first post, we looked at the different standards of living that the God and the saints have vis-à-vis the world’s standards.  Today, we will examine the essential core of meaning of our human life, where we will ultimately find fulfillment and how time is on our side.

The Meaning-full Core
Growth to spiritual maturity happens primarily in the invisible center of each human heart, where we respond either generously or peevishly to God’s ceaseless, respectful, quiet (sometimes not-so-quiet), loving invitations. God is so loving, so wise, and so powerful, that he can and does make his invitations heard to anyone who is human, whether the most primitive and uneducated and hardship-ridden cave man, or the most advanced and educated and privileged prima donna. The quality of our earthly human experience certainly includes external categories, and this is why Jesus and his Church always call us to every form of mercy and charity and justice towards our neighbors. But the essential core of that quality is moral and spiritual, it has to do with the choices we make in response to God’s interior nudging and invitations, choices often visible only to our conscience and to God. That’s where we determine what kind of people we will be, the kind of people who are open to authentic love, and thus able to enjoy heaven, or the kind of people who close in on themselves in a self-centered rebellion against authentic love, and thus are unable to enjoy heaven.

The Place of Fulfillment
Another important point to keep in mind is that the fullness of human happiness, as Christ has revealed to us, can never be achieved on earth in any case, since it requires a continual and unmediated union with God. That can’t happen in a fallen world. It belongs to heaven and to the new heaven and earth that will come at the end of history. So, as we grow spiritually here on earth, we enjoy more and more growth in wisdom, love, meaning, joy – but we are never completely satisfied. And the sufferings that inevitably accompany any journey through a fallen world are permitted by God as opportunities to grow spiritually, to grow in living the Beatitudes, growth that will lead us to greater intimacy with God now and forever. This too is why a life full of suffering is not necessarily a life less full of meaning and purpose and interior, spiritual fulfillment.

Time Is On Our Side
But what about needing more time (or more lives) to grow spiritually? The first thing to keep in mind in this regard is that we can never “make ourselves worthy of heaven” all on our own. We actually need God’s grace every step of the way. In other words, because of our fallen nature, our wounded human nature, with so many built-in self-centered tendencies, we need God’s grace to help us make the right decisions and respond generously to his interior invitations. And he will always make his grace available to us. But he will never force anyone to accept it. This is the drama of human freedom.

And God, the creator of human nature and the creator of every human being, is infinitely wise, loving, and powerful. So he gives every person an abundance of opportunities to make those choices that determine what kind of person they will be. In his mercy, he gives us way more opportunities than we actually deserve according to strict justice. This is why we have such an ancient tradition of praying for even the most hardened sinners, even at the very hour of their death: God’s grace can still work even in such unpropitious situations, and with the help of that grace human freedom can still repent and open itself to love. In other words, God’s providence assures that no one is cheated of enough time or opportunity to enter and follow the path of true spiritual maturity, of a truly fulfilled and meaningful life here on earth, and eternal life in union with God forever in heaven. In still other words, no one who comes to the Father’s house after death will be able to say: “If you had just given me more time, more education, more prosperity, then I would have been able to become spiritually mature!” No. In the light of God’s limitless wisdom and love, each one of us will see that we were given an abundance of mercy and grace, as much as we needed and more.

In Part III, we will examine why pagan religions often adopted various forms of reincarnational doctrines and how reincarnation subtly denies and obliterates our capacity to love, thus denying our human dignity.

 

Art: ”The Ladder of Divine Ascent’‘ or ”The Ladder of Paradise” icon described by John Climacus. Monastery of St Catherine, Mount Sinai; PD-US-old-100, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published four other titles: "Seeking First the Kingdom", "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions", "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", "Inside the Passion"--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation".

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  • Tessye

    Father, you hit on a lot of core stuff! Like this one: “But the essential core of that quality is moral and spiritual, it has to do with the choices we make in response to God’s interior nudging and invitations, choices often visible only to our conscience and to God.” These so called “nudging and invitations” or what I have come to understand as “testing” are indicators to me on how weak I am and on how much I need God to help me to get to Heaven. Although it seems like I’m always failing, I take it like a review where God points out to me my areas of improvements so I can then turn around and ask Him for His help (grace)…the ultimate constructive criticism. Praise God!!!

  • Charlie Johns

    I want to believe that everyone gets plenty of time to choose God, but how does this work for those who die young? Are kids simply going straight to heaven, is hell not a threat until they’re old enough to understand the dangers of their choices? Kids can do awful things, and as an extreme example there are child soldiers who are trained to hate and kill without mercy in many parts of the world.

    • AHD

      I think the key words are: “trained to hate and kill”. Do the children choose to hate and kill with their free will or have they been manipulated by adults? God must have some special supply of mercy for these children when they realise what they have been doing.

      • Charlie Johns

        Thanks. I agree there must be a mercy line, but I can’t imagine how or when people cross it. When does someone go from innocently ignorant and taught to do bad, to doing bad by fully aware choice? Seems to me that most people in the world today are overgrown frightened children acting reflexively from what they were told to do. Is it possible God never judges, only people with their belief systems do?

        • Camila

          AHD and Charlie,
          Your conversation here reminded me of Jesus’ words

          “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Mt. 16:6)