Sunday, November 07, 2021

The Truth About Reincarnation

(Thirty-second Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on November 7, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 1 Kings 17:10-16; Psalm 146:7-10; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:41-44.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here:: Thirty-second Sunday 2021]

“Heaven Can Wait” is a 1978 film starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie.  (I’m sure some of you remember it.)  The story centers around a Los Angeles Rams quarterback named Joe Pendelton (played by Beatty), who is taken out of his body before he’s supposed to die.  He’s taken by an overanxious angel who’s on his first assignment.  Now, unfortunately, by the time this mistake is discovered, Joe’s body on earth has already been cremated.  So they have to find another body for Joe’s soul to inhabit.  The body they decide on is that of a millionaire industrialist named Leo Farnsworth.  Farnsworth has just been drugged and murdered by his unfaithful wife and her lover—both of whom are really surprised to see Leo walking around after they think they’ve done him in!  Some of the film’s best and funniest moments come as the two adulterers try to make sense of it all.

I won’t play the spoiler today by telling you the rest of the story, in case at some point you want to see the film.  I mention it today because of the theme of the movie, which, of course, is reincarnation.  Reincarnation is actually a common theme in many Hollywood films.  In fact, in preparing this homily I googled “reincarnation movies” and I got lots and lots of hits.  I couldn’t believe how many hits I got.  This is obviously a subject that’s of interest to many people.

As Catholics, we don’t believe in reincarnation (or at least we’re not supposed to believe in it).  As we are told in today’s second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 9: “Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment, so also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”

People die once.  Not twice.  Not over and over again.

Once.  When it comes to this earthly life, there are no “do overs”.

The Church teaches that, after death, we are judged in what’s called our “particular judgment”.  This is also what that text from Hebrews teaches.  Our soul, which was separated from our body at the moment of death, then goes either to heaven or hell or purgatory.  (Souls in purgatory, of course, go to heaven when they’re fully purified.  We pray for those souls in a special way during this month of November—although we should certainly pray for the holy souls in purgatory all year long.)

Then, at the end of time, our souls will be reunited with our bodies (our resurrected bodies), and we will go either to heaven or to hell for all eternity.  Once all the souls in purgatory have been purified, purgatory will cease to exist.

That’s the teaching of the Catholic Church on what happens after death.  As Jesus died once, so we die once.  And we should thank God for that!  We should thank God that we only get one chance in this life!  We should thank God that reincarnation is not true!

Because if it were true, then we would be living right now in a meaningless universe with a God who’s nothing short of a tyrant!

Many people don’t think about this, but they should.  Let me give you some examples of what I’m talking about.

If reincarnation is true, then our God is not a loving Lord.  Quite oppositely, if reincarnation is true then our God is a cruel and heartless tyrant.  I say that because every creature on this earth that God has created suffers in some way.  This means that when your present life of suffering is finally over you’re going to be reincarnated into another creature that will also suffer—and perhaps suffer more intensely.  And this will go on and on infinitely.  There will be no terminal point for your pain! There will be no opportunity to come to a place where there is no suffering.   

If reincarnation is true, there is also nothing at stake in this earthly life.  Consequently, it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do in your present existence as a human being —because when it’s over you might come back as a horse or a frog, and horses and frogs are not morally responsible for their actions.

So obviously, if reincarnation is true, there’s no ultimate goal in this life.  We just experience an endless succession of separate existences here on this earth—existences that have no real purpose. 

If reincarnation is true, then what’s also true is that you will probably never see the people you love again once you and they leave this life.  I mean, what are the odds that you and all those you love will be reincarnated into the same family, or the same town, or the same country—or into the same species for that matter?  You might come back as a human being, but your spouse might come back as a zebra and your children as chickens.  Who knows?

Ultimately, my brothers and sisters, if reincarnation is true, then the sad and tragic reality is that suicide becomes an option for you—a very reasonable option.  Think about it.  If you believe in reincarnation, and are unhappy with your life right now, why not end it and get on to the next one?  Maybe you’ll be born into a better situation in your next life.  If not, you can kill yourself again—and again and again—until you get it right.

These are some the sad and tragic effects of believing the lie of reincarnation.  Many people—including many Christians—are not aware of these things.  As I’ve hopefully made clear in this homily, reincarnation may provide a good theme for an entertaining Hollywood movie like “Heaven Can Wait,” but in the real world reincarnation would be disastrous—for everyone.

So, you see, it’s actually a great blessing that today’s second reading from Hebrews 9 is true—it’s a great blessing that we die only once, and that we’re judged by God immediately thereafter—as long as we’re in the state of grace when that decisive moment comes.  That’s key.

Then the next body we inhabit after we die won’t be the body of an animal or of some other human person; rather it will be our own body, raised from the dead by Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and made immortal.  And it’s in that resurrected body that we will spend eternity with him—and with the Father and the Holy Spirit—in the glorious and eternal kingdom of Heaven.

The kingdom Jesus died and rose from the dead to give us.