Q —“I’m getting older and wonder what comes after death. What are a few of the most convincing or authoritative pieces of Scripture or church teaching that give us a glimpse of what the next life is like?”

A — What an interesting question! Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Church on the “last things” do not provide a detailed map, as it were, of the next life. Traditionally, the “last things” are death, judgment, purgatory, heaven and hell. Perhaps the best way to gain a glimpse of what the next life will be like is to reflect on our understanding of God. That is quite simply the key to this question. The finest description of God in our Christian tradition comes from the First Letter of St. John: “God is Love” (1 John 4:16). This is no sentimental view of God because in the Gospel of St. John we read about the cross-centered logic of the Divine Love: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 13:13). Love is costly and cruciform. Because God’s love is unconditional, the “last things” are best understood as our encounter with Divine Love. In judgment, God holds a mirror before our eyes, as it were, of the entirety of our lives seen in a moment. Such a real seeing of our lives will leave none of us without regret as we recognize our unloveliness in the presence of Divine Love. That is purgatory. The painful regret that is purgatory prepares us for complete communion (but not absorption) in the Divine Love. That complete communion is heaven. I can, of course, refuse that communion in and with Divine Love, and that is hell. Although God is the Love that will not let us go, we have the freedom to let go the Love that God is, to refuse the invitation, to live hellishly. Briefly, then, our hope is heaven, that is, finding ourselves fully in love with and fully loved by the God-who-is-Love, and with all those who have gone before us in that love. I think that is what is behind the saying of that wonderful 15th century English mystic Margery Kempe: “It will be full merry in heaven!”