By Fr. Glenn Jones:
One of the things people often ask is whether there is reincarnation. Despite the popularization of the concept—notable in other religions especially—the Christian might note the passage that was in one of our weekly Mass readings for Nov. 7: “… it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment…” (Hebrews 9: ). We also read similarly in other scripture, such as: “Do not give your heart to sorrow; drive it away, remembering the end of life. Do not forget, there is no coming back…” (Sirach 38:20-21) Jesus Himself illustrates the finality of earthly life in His parable of poor Lazarus, in which the rich man—totally indifferent to the pitiful beggar at his gate—is given no second chance or given any other kind of life, but rather suffers without respite due to that very disregard of other humans’ tragic plights.
Thus the Catholic Church, at least, teaches: “Death is the end of man’s earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny…we shall not return to other earthly lives…There is no “reincarnation” after death.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1013)
We admire the eagle’s flight, the bear’s strength, the horse’s speed and beauty, the coyote’s cunning, the great man or woman’s abilities, and we envy such traits … wishing that we could share in them. Such desires may be why the idea of reincarnation came about in the first place, plus the fact that we wish we could have a “do over” or second chance whenever we mess things up, recognizing the consequences of our fault. But also, we might wish reincarnation of others as either reward for the good but tragedy-plagued life, or as a punishment for those who do harm.
But, again, there is that parable of poor Lazarus, who was comforted “in the bosom of Abraham” after enduring much human misery … while the rich man, who is notably not described as actively evil or sinful, is yet condemned for “living the good life” in total disregard of the suffering of others. Jesus echoes this theme as well in that essential Matthew 25—one of His final teachings prior to His arrest, passion and crucifixion, emphasizing its importance—and His parable explaining that when we succor the suffering of others, we succor Him. Conversely, when we like the rich man in the parable above ignore the suffering of others, we ignore Him. And that indifference doesn’t end well. Read the parable.
So the Bible—what Christians believe is the divinely-inspired word of God—does not advance the idea of reincarnation; quite the contrary. Resurrection definitely, but not reincarnation as in living some other normal earthly human or other corporeal life.
“But what about Jesus’ friend Lazarus (John 11), who was brought back from death?!” That Lazarus was brought back to his own life by divine power, not reincarnated, nor resurrected per se—the same man, the same flesh, the same soul … the same life, briefly interrupted.
Thus God Himself in scriptures tells us that we only have this one life to live … to do good, or not. So let us make the most of it! … not “most” in the sense of “max pleasure”, but in doing the good that we wish others would do for us when needed. (Hmmm … that sounds like something Jesus would say (helloooo! Luke 6:31!!)) And, as we note repeatedly: “Before a man are life and death, he is given whichever he chooses.” (Sirach 15:17), and “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) … great verses and thoughts to keep ever before our mind’s eye.
In that vein, though somewhat tangentially, please remember our veterans on Veterans Day this week. It is a less poignant day than Memorial Day, but this is a day that we are still able to thank our living vets, especially those who have been in harm’s way in the service of our nation. Memorial Day is that day we hold those who gave all closest to our hearts.
As is widely publicized, many vets have post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), illnesses, etc., as a result of their service, as well as high incidences of suicide in both the active and post-military ranks, so keep all of them in your prayers, and support those who may be so troubled. In doing so we remember Jesus and His teaching of Matthew 25 cited above, knowing that when we succor the troubled and the suffering, we are succoring Him … easing the thirst of their souls, for “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)
“…lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also … No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
(Matthew 6:20-21, 24)
Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.