Life After Death

Is the genuine 'ageless' feeling experienced by elderly souls some sort of proof of immortality?

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Faith

In adulthood I learned that neither my father nor my mother believed in the afterlife, much to my dismay and surprise. It happened while videoing their responses to some questions I prepared with the aim of sharing their wisdom derived from the Great Depression and war years.

Within an hour, we had covered much of their childhood and young adult years spent in East Boston, parented by Italian-American immigrants. Both sets of parents had to work hard for the basic necessities of raising eight to ten children on polenta with tomato sauce and home-grown produce from Victory Gardens. They related how hand-me-downs kept them dressed, and butcher scraps fed them. Toys at Christmas were rare. Salaried work was hard to come by in those days.

Then came the question of religion. We four siblings were dutifully raised as baptized and confirmed Catholics, but neither of my parents attended church regularly, leaving us to our own recognizance. My mother’s parents did the same with their children and rarely went to Mass. When I asked why, my mother told of a priest back in Italy who had an adulterous affair that soured her mother’s faith in established religion. But she gave each of her six daughters the middle name Mary, keeping to Italian tradition.

My father said, “The church never reached me,” though he didn’t elaborate.

He had joined the Masonic Shriners to fill his needs for worship and mercantile fellowship, becoming worthy master of a lodge — not once but twice — while rising to 33rd degree rank. He’d pace our living room floor, memorizing ceremony rituals practiced in this quasi-religion of his.

Then I asked them an important question: “Do you believe in life after death?”

They both made brief statements on their non-belief in an afterlife. Mom said with the simple eloquence of her own mother, “When you’re dead, you’re dead.”

Dad said, “When you’re gone, it’s over. No more worry about taxes or a painful end.”

His response was curious because the Shriners, dressed in red fez hats and fleecy lamb aprons, would declare their dead to be destined for the Great Celestial Lodge (which they eventually did for him). Here the existence of an afterlife is assumed.

“So you don’t believe in either a Celestial Lodge or Christ’s promise of a heaven?”

“No, I don’t,” he said.

“So what do you believe?”

“I believe in a Supreme Architect of the universe but not in some incarnate deity who could manipulate nature to work spectacular miracles like raising himself from the dead.”

From my history reading, I knew he was parroting the Masonic beliefs that George Washington and other “enlightened” deists, such as Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, had held. They had put exaggerated trust in Scientism to explain away God and answer all moral questions, so that religion and theology were useless, even dead.

More than two-thirds through my Q & A, I saw Dad was antsy and restless. So we took a break. He was impatient and eager to wrap it up.

I told him, “Dad, this could be your last chance to influence your progeny.”

He hesitated a moment, then agreed to continue, in a rare moment of a shared emotion. His hacking cough must have suggested to him his end was near. Soon after, Dad died in his sleep at age 75 from congestive heart failure.

I recall Mom would say, into her late eighties, “I feel like I’m only sixteen years old.” Now nearing my eighties, I feel that way. It seems to support my hope in a life beyond this world. I suspect this genuine ageless feeling, what so many experience when elderly, is an intuitive prompt — maybe a proof — that our souls truly are immortal. Years later, after both my parents had died, I’d often pray their souls made it to heaven.

Were they correct in believing that no conscious existence awaited them beyond the grave? The late Stephen Hawking opined, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers. That is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” Albert Einstein left behind many quotes to that effect.

Were those two high priests of Scientism smarter than the lowborn Jesus of Nazareth, a mere village carpenter, Who promised that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life? The make-believe of a child who believes all things (cf. 1 Cor 13:7) may play a key role in opening those pearly gates. Learned pundits ignore this saying of Christ: Unless you change and become like little children, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:3).

 

Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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