R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens


What happens in the afterlife to an atheist?  Well, the answer to most questions about the afterlife needs to be, “We don’t know.”  While Jesus spoke about the Final Judgment and offered some striking images of heaven and hell, in the final analysis, no human being can say for sure what, precisely, awaits us.  Only God knows—literally.

Someone asked me this morning what I hoped for Christopher Hitchens, the fierce atheist who died after an agonizing bout with esophogeal cancer, and my first response was to say that I hope he’s pleasantly surprised.  And I do.  I certainly didn't agree with him on many things (on almost anything, frankly; and I was particularly annoyed at his treatment of Mother Teresa), but I always hoped that somehow he would experience an invitation from God in his earthly life; and I hope that he may now come to know God.  (I could never quite shake the feeling that Mr. Hitchens' lifelong struggle with God betokened a deep hunger for the divine, or at least for answers.)  Of course the famous atheist would surely dislike hearing that, as he objected to people praying for him in his final illness. 

But Christians believe in a forgiving God, and this is the God that Jesus spoke about many times, most clearly in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 16:11-32).  The parable could have just as easily been named the parable of the Prodigal Father, because it tells the story of a father who is prodigal—generous, lavish, even wasteful--with his love.  As almost every Christian knows, the story is about a father who forgives his wastrel son, a young man who has not only spent all that he has on fast living, but also has rejected the father.  (In the Ancient Near East, asking for your inheritance, as the son does, is tantamount to saying, “I wish you were dead.”)  The son would seem to be last person one should forgive.

When the Son returns after a long time away, though, the Father welcomes him with joy—even though the son is simply returning home to be housed and fed, and even though the son has not even asked for forgiveness.  Nonetheless, the father rushes to greet him, kisses him tenderly, and then asks his servants to prepare a great feast in honor of his return. 

The older son, however, is furious, and scolds the father for celebrating the son’s return.  How, wonders the older son, could his father rejoice?  What’s more, the older son protests that since he has worked hard he should be the one who is honored.

The father then says these famous words to his older son: “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and now he is found.”

Henri Nouwen, the Dutch priest and spiritual master, wrote in his book The Prodigal Son that most of us are like the older brother, despising any forgiving actions.  We feel that we are the ones who have worked hard, who have led good lives, who have tried to act morally; so why should others be forgiven for their failings?  We often resent forgiveness and reconciliation, because it doesn’t seem “fair.” 

But as Jesus points out, God’s love is far different than our own; it is prodigal, generous, even wasteful. 

I hope that Christopher Hitchens enjoys some of this prodigal love.  Of course committed atheists may not be ready to receive it.  So for them, and for many others, there will probably be a time of conversion, what Catholics call Purgatory: a time of preparation to meet God, a time of reviewing one’s life, and asking for forgiveness.  And of course it will be up to each individual to decide if he or she wants to accept that Father’s love or turn away.  For me, hell is the ultimate turning away of that forgiving love. 

So I hope that Christopher Hitchens, famous atheist, fearless polemicist and, in his own unique way, brave seeker, will now be pleasantly surprised by God.  And if he finally makes it to heaven, I hope he gets a chance to get to know the prodigal love of God, which eluded him on earth. After that, I hope he gets to know Mother Teresa a little better than he did on earth. 

May he rest in peace.

David Pasinski
5 years 4 months ago
Amen, amen, amen!!!! May such a brilliant intellect be likewise humble enough able to aceept the love and forgiveness of the Mystery of All. And may we all... And may he and Mother Teresa dance together in delight on the fringes of that Eternal Perichoresis...
Robert Feduccia
5 years 4 months ago
Thank you! These are exactly my feelings. I have often perceived the dim glimmer of faith in Hitchens. It is a glimmer that I do not see in Richard Dawkins. Hitchens angered me; challenged me, and he ultimately strengthened my faith. In the short term, I do believe he hurt the state of Christian faith. In the longview, I think he will make Christianity more modern and more relevant because of the way we need to grapple with his arguments. The Church's response to the modern atheists will mark her future.
Walter Sandell
5 years 4 months ago
Fr. Jim,
Your article is the essence of Chistianity, and very well put.
Surprise!  Surprise!  Surprise!
Julian of Norwich says, "All will be well."  I suspect that purgatory is something like a flash freeze.
GOD LOVES YOU, EVERYONE!
Tim Reid
5 years 4 months ago
I'm grateful once again, Father, for your submission to this blog.  I am in the middle of teaching my sophomores about heaven, hell and purgatory and I'm thinking of using your post for an assignment.  I especially enjoyed the "pleasantly surpised" remark.  Well done, good and faithful servant!
Lara Martinez
5 years 4 months ago
I have to disagree with you Father.  While it's absolutely true that we cannot know who goes to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory, it seems certain that Hitchens died without conversion if you believe his (almost) deathbed statement:

 "[Don't wait for a deathbed conversion]... redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before." (from a letter to the American Athiests in which he gives his regrets for not attending an event due to the ravages of cancer).

While I certainly hope that Mr. Hitchins is in Purgatory, I have to wonder at your glossing over of the evil that he propogated during his lifetime.  Doesn't it matter that this man singlehandedly lived his life in opposition to God and used his considerable talents maligning, mocking and denying God?  How many people has he led into this empty and meaningless philosophy?  I fear the most for our young people who are bombarded and indoctrinated in this hollow secularism at universities.

I will pray that Mr. Hitchins is indeed a prodigal son, but for that, he needed to repent.  It is not "Christian" to believe that unrepentant sinners have a chance to spend eternity with Christ-our Faith does not teach that.  It is a secular view, which is presumptious.  Jesus Christ said that we must be baptized, follow Him (as the Way the Truth and the Life), and those who do not believe in Him will not know God but will be eternally damned (Mark 16:16, John 3:18).

It's not the "Oprah" way of thinking that there are many paths to salvation, and there is no Absolute Truth, only "your truth" and "my truth."  I think we need to think clearly about what our lives are about, and how life is not ours to waste.
5 years 4 months ago
Thank you, Fr. Jim, for your compassionate remarks.  I recently had an argument with two othe Catholics who adamantly stated that the Catholic Church no longer believes in Purgatory.  I countered with the statements in the Catechism.  But, even if it weren't a belief, I would  still hold it as a truth.  It seems to me to be the embodiment of what a loving, merciful, just God would provide for his people.

To carry the parable of the Prodigal son, father and the older brother further, there is a beautiful eulogy for Christopher written by his brother, Peter Hitchins, in the "Mail Online" today.  These brothers were estranged for many years.  Peter, a former atheist, is a practicing Anglican and is known for his traditional views.    The brothers' reconciliation , as "true" Englishmen, is touching.  How blessed they were to have the time at the end of Christopher's life to make amends.  The workings of God's grace is always a marvel to behold!
Lara Martinez
5 years 4 months ago
I had to add that I'm really alarmed at your thoughts on what Purgatory are:

"a time of conversion, what Catholics call Purgatory: a time of preparation to meet God, a time of reviewing one’s life, and asking for forgiveness."

Conversion MUST be during life!!  Purgatory is for souls who died in a state of grace (in God's friendship) and who were only imperfectly purified. 

Mr. Hutchins cannot repent after he is dead.  Conversion is for the living.
david power
5 years 4 months ago
Lara,

What is impossible for Man (and woman) is possible for God.
I have this mental picture of you with your hands on your hips
and staring Jesus down as he attempts to let Christopher Hitchens in.
You too will pass before a king and a surprise might be awaitin you dear sister  
Lara Martinez
5 years 4 months ago
My full name is Lara Martinez.
Lara Martinez
5 years 4 months ago
Mr. Power:

I am a Catholic who as such adheres to the teaching of the Magesterium.  I was responding to the false notion that one can redeem oneself after death.  If you believe that making a life of mocking and disparaging God and His Church and never repenting during life (and I really do pray Mr. Hutchins *did* repent on his deathbed) is somehow going to be made right *after death,* you need to learn your faith a little better.

Believing what our Faith and Church teaches and stating it doesn't make me a person juding with "hands on her hips."  It is so important in our culture of death to refute lies and distortions.  Purgatory is NOT a place where we get a "second chance."  Pointing that out says nothing about me personally.  Why would you want to be a poor example to other Catholics? 

I love our Church!  It has given me so many things to be joyful about-especially the miricles of my children. 

I didn't damn Mr. Hitchins to Hell, if he did not repent during life, he did that himself.  I'm sorry that you don't agree with the CCC, which is the teachings of the Church that you must believe to be a Catholic.  Your view is very well regarded in the secular, "Oprah" culture here in the U.S., and you are very welcome to it-but it's not Catholic.
Lara Martinez
5 years 4 months ago
P.S.  I would give Mr. Hutchins a huge hug and kiss if I saw him with Jesus!  What a wonderful, joyous and spectacular thing that would be!!

I am only pointing out what our Catholic Faith states.  It's not a personal attack or a feeling-it is just what Catholics believe.
Mark Mattheiss
5 years 4 months ago
Christopher Hitchens said that he was unwilling to pay the intellectual price to have faith in God. But how would he know the value of the trade?
If you don't pay the price, you can't have the goods.
Jesus said ''he who would save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake and the gospel, will save it.''
Christopher lost his life.
Jesus kept His.
Faith does not call us to abandon intellect-but acknowledges there is more beyond it. There is a vast difference. One degrades us, one enlivens and crowns us with dignity, wisdom, and power.
The Truth is not less than I can know, or even all I can know, but more than I can know. The greatest of all human minds, taken together, across all ages, fall far, far short of ultimate Truth. Some call the recognition of this ''humility,'' and it is a simple statement of fact.
Some grasp at Truth like date-rapists. Others becon Her to come-like a beloved spouse.
Some parade truth like a trophy wife. Others share Her like a most precious treasure.
Fear grasps. Love liberates.
Because Christopher was conceived in Love, and lived in Love, he was free to reject Love.
The theological term for this is ''hell.''
And the roads there are strewn with pride, fear, grasping, cowardly living, and self aggrandizement.
Heaven, by contrast, has a Road resplendent with humility, love, generosity, courage, and the high praises of God.
Rick Malloy
5 years 4 months ago
Hi Lara Marttinez,

It doesn't seem to me that your understanding of what the church teaches on these matters takes into account the overwhelming reality of God's love and mercy.  God "wills everone to be saved and come to a knowledge of truth" (I Tim 2:4).  Will God's desires for the universal salvation of all be thwarted?  Will God continue to labor to save us even after death?  Only God knows for sure.

How do we know one cannot be redeemed after death?  How do we even know one is condemmned before death?  The Catechism teaches that mortal sin is a "possibility," not a cast in concrete fact.  "However, although we can judge that an act is in and of itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God (CCC#1861).

You state "I was responding to the false notion that one can redeem oneself after death."  First, one cannot redeem oneself anyway.  God redeems; we recieve salvation as gift.  Even those who commit suicide (who in your schema would be incapable of redemption) are not beyond God's saving grace.  The catechism states: "We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives.  By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentence.  The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives" (CCC #2283).

If our prayers for those who have committed suicide are worthwhile, so too our prayers for those like Mr. Hitchens, who, as Fr. Martin ponders, may have been more God hungry than even he realized.  I trust and hope God will deal with Mr. Hitchens with as much forgiveness that he will have to have for me.
Rick Malloy
5 years 4 months ago
Hi Lara Marttinez,

It doesn't seem to me that your understanding of what the church teaches on these matters takes into account the overwhelming reality of God's love and mercy.  God "wills everone to be saved and come to a knowledge of truth" (I Tim 2:4).  Will God's desires for the universal salvation of all be thwarted?  Will God continue to labor to save us even after death?  Only God knows for sure.

How do we know one cannot be redeemed after death?  How do we even know one is condemmned before death?  The Catechism teaches that mortal sin is a "possibility," not a cast in concrete fact.  "However, although we can judge that an act is in and of itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God" (CCC#1861).

You state "I was responding to the false notion that one can redeem oneself after death."  First, one cannot redeem oneself anyway.  God redeems; we recieve salvation as gift.  Even those who commit suicide (who in your schema would be incapable of redemption) are not beyond God's saving grace.  The catechism states: "We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives.  By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentence.  The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives" (CCC #2283).

If our prayers for those who have committed suicide are worthwhile, so too our prayers for those like Mr. Hitchens, who, as Fr. Martin ponders, may have been more God hungry than even he realized.  I trust and hope God will deal with Mr. Hitchens with as much forgiveness that he will have to have for me.
Crystal Watson
5 years 4 months ago
Thanks for this post, Fr. Martin.  Just last night I was reading an essay by Hitchins at Vanity Fair ... http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/01/hitchens-201201 ..... and I felt so sad for him because he was suffering so much.  I didn't realize he had died until I saw this post.  The God I want to believe in saves everyone - I'm with Hans Urs von Balthasar in hoping no one's in hell.
Bill Collier
5 years 4 months ago
As Christians, we must hope that Mr. Hitchens is with God. His brother, Peter, has written that his efforts to break through, or at least soften, Christopher's atheism were futile-he described his brother's atheism as having caused him to wall himself into an intellectual turret where he viewed religion through narrow slits. However, I recall seeing Christopher Hitchens being interviewed on TV about a decade ago, and he gave an answer to a question that made me think he was hedging his bets about an afterlife with God. The interviewer asked Hitchens if Hitchens's children had been baptized. At the time, Hitchens was married to a woman who was Greek Orthodox. His wife wanted the children baptized in her faith tradition, and Hitchens told the interviewer that he had given his "permission" for the baptisms. When the interviewer expressed surprise at that answer, Hitchens responded somewhat curtly that his children should have the benefit of a "life insurance policy." 

Though I do hope that Hitchens has, or eventually will, meet his Creator, I agree with Ms. Martinez' comment that his aggressive atheism, in combination with that of other so-called New Atheists (e.g., Harris, Dawkins, Dennett), has led a significant number of people, especially young people, away from religion. None of the New Atheists is well-schooled in theology, however, and their misperceptions about the subject matter have been imprinted on eager acolytes who know even less about theology and religion than their teachers know. Western culture is becoming increasingly secular, and, to my mind, one of the primary challenges for Christianity in the 21st century will be finding effective ways to transmit the Good News to a populace that sees no need for belief in a divinity. In addition, I don't think it is a stretch to say that religious belief will continue to be challenged, and perhaps attacked, by non-believers who strongly advocate a diminishing, or even non-existent, role for religion in society. Unfortunately, Mr. Hitchens will be partly to blame for any such intolerance of religion and religious belief.       
RUTH ANN PILNEY
5 years 4 months ago
Do we know the exact moment of death for anyone?  Do we know if, or how, God might approach a dying person while still on this side of eternity?  Various possibilities exist even prior to death.  Only the dying person and God know what is happening.  I have strong hope in God's mercy.  I hope that God gives the worst of us a final chance for repentance and conversion.  I believe some would accept it while others would not.  No one can be forced, but maybe they could be overwhelmed by truth and love.
Ryan Hall
5 years 4 months ago
Father,

I have to disagree with you an a few items that I think you have in error here. 

First of all, I do agree that we should never wish hell for anyone, and should not say with any certainly this person or that person is definitively in hell. I agree with you on that sentiment because to make such a statement is arrogance to the point of mortal error because we are basically saying we are God and can make such determinations. Only God ultimately knows and judges such.  

However, I believe you make an erroneous assertion about purgatory. Purgatory, according to the catechism is for, "Section 1030: All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven." Purgatory is NOT a crucible where we work out our salvation one way or the other. We are already assured salvation when we get to purgatory, but purgatory is a purification whereby we are perfected of venial sins and desires. If one dies in a state of mortal sin, one does not go to purgatory, as one dies not in a state of grace.  

 What you seem to be advocating here is Universal Salvation, i.e. even the unrepentant who die in a state of mortal sin get a chance to redeem themselves in the hereafter. Universalism is not what the Church teaches.  When someone dies in a state of mortal sin, the catechism says: "Section 1035: The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs."

One must be very careful not to likewise play God and render judgment that so-and-so person will ultimately go to heaven. That likewise is just as arrogant in that the person making such a judgment is pretending to play God and rendering judgment as such. Only God knows one way or the other. It is pretention on our part to render judgment one way or the other. We pray for all who have died, but it is not our place to judge either way. 
Lara Martinez
5 years 4 months ago
Thank you Father Ryan.  You said it beautifully.

I wanted to add that I did not mean to state that I know Mr. Hitchens is Heaven, Hell or Purgatory.  Only God knows.

I was frustrated by the misrepresentation of man's obligation to repent during his lifetime.  We all get second chances (and third, and fourth, etc.) while we live.  Once we die, our choice has been made.

The Prodigal Son repented.  He repented and asked his father for forgiveness.  The father then forgave him with overflowing mercy and love. 
Lara Martinez
5 years 4 months ago
Rick Malloy:

I wanted to answer your question "How do we know one cannot be redeemed after death?"

Death puts and end to human life as the time open to either accepting  or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. (CCC 1021)

Lara Martinez
5 years 4 months ago
Rick Malloy:

Oops-I posted before I added:

Your statement: "The Catechism teaches that mortal sin is a "possibility," not a cast in concrete fact."

This is absolutely incorrect.

"To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice.  This state of difinitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell'"
(CCC1033)

God does want us to choose Him.  That's why He gave us a choice.  It is still a choice we must make before we die.

I am not arguing for or against Mr. Hitchins salvation.  I am merely arguing the teachings of the Catholic Church and the fact that there is no repentence after death.
Vince Killoran
5 years 4 months ago
Sorry to be such a contrarian but I haven't seen a compelling rebuttal to CH's assessment of Mother Theresa. Hitchens was wrong about a lot of things-but pretty dead on (on pun intended) about many things.

I don't know the condition of CH's soul at the time of his death and I wouldn't waste time trying to engage in conjecture. It seems smug and vindictive to attempt a verdict.  As Dorothy Day once said (to paraphrase) "God help us all if we each got what we truly deserved."

 But consider this from the entry for "salvation outside the Church" in the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CATHOLICISM (1995), p. 1160: according to Fr. Rahner "those who do not know Christ explicitly can nevertheless encounter him anonymously and live mysteriously in his grace and thus be in communion with the Church."

RIP Christopher Hitchens
Lara Martinez
5 years 4 months ago
Vince,

You don't understand the quote you used. 

""Those, who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may attain eternal salvation" (Catechism, no. 847). Sincere non-Christians can be moved by grace to seek God and know and do His will. When they do so according to the dictates of their conscience they can be saved, for by God's will they are associated with the paschal mystery of Christ."

Let's not pretend that Hitchens did not freely choose to reject Christ.  If nothing else, he was intelligent.

How utterly sad you believe his tripe about Mother Theresa.

Jim McCrea
5 years 4 months ago
Lara @ #5 said: 

“Doesn't it matter that this man singlehandedly lived his life in opposition to God and used his considerable talents maligning, mocking and denying God? How many people has he led into this empty and meaningless philosophy? I fear the most for our young people who are bombarded and indoctrinated in this hollow secularism at universities.”
The value of someone like Hitchens to my way of thinking is that he causes some lazy believers to take notice of what he says, what they think they believe, and wrestle with the difference.  He knew what and why he believed what he believed.  How many “believers” today can even begin to articulate what and why they believe?
May this was true in Hitchens’ case:
“However vigorously the non-believer may assert that he is a pure positivist who has long left behind him supernatural temptations and weaknesses, he will never be free of the secret uncertainty whether positivism really has the last word. He is troubled by doubts about his unbelief, he remains threatened by the question whether belief is not after all the reality which it claims to be.
Just as the believer is choked by the salt water of doubt constantly washed into his mouth by the ocean of uncertainty, so the non-believer is troubled by doubts about his unbelief. Anyone who makes up his mind to evade the uncertainty of belief will have to experience the uncertainty of unbelief.
- both the believer and the unbeliever share, each in his own way, doubt and belief. Neither can quite escape either doubt or belief; for the one, faith is present against doubt, for the other through doubt and in the form of doubt.
Perhaps in precisely this way doubt, which saves both sides from being shut up in their own worlds, could become the avenue of communication. It prevents both from enjoying complete self-satisfaction; it opens up the believer to the doubter and the doubter to the believer.”
Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Ratzinger (1968)
Jim McCrea
5 years 4 months ago
Lara:  thank you for posting here.  It is just one more reminder of why I have nothing to doany more  with the Catholicism that you espouse.
Lara Martinez
5 years 4 months ago
I am really confused about this article.  Is this magazine Catholic?  It seems that we have lots of personal opinion about what happens in the afterlife-things such as Purgatory being some sort of hippy commune where you go after death to see if
God can "change your mind" and an invitation to go to Heaven.  Mortal sin is not real or concrete.  You can still convert after death.

This is not Catholic, folks.  I understand the commenters not having true Catholic doctrine correct, but for those members of the S.J. I'm really, really confused with your utter refutation of Catholic teaching.

Do you also have other, personal interpretations of scripture?
Jim McCrea
5 years 4 months ago
Ah, yes, the CCC.  Handed down on Mt Moriah to St. Mechtilde of Ubaldigor and, hence, Sacred Writ never to be questioned, contradicted or otherwise treated other than by bowing down thrice while uttering Mea Culpa in Vulgate Latin.
Kang Dole
5 years 4 months ago
I don't think I've ever been more sympathetic to Mr. Hitchens' anti-religious attitude than after reading some of these comments. Seriously, if I ever get an itching to become a Christian, I'll just read this comment section to knock some sense back into myself. I mean, surely, the blessed would envy the damned if being in heaven meant spending an eternity with some of you sanctimonious pearl-clutchers.
Rick Malloy
5 years 4 months ago
Yes Lara this magazine is Catholic. 

Maybe not as you mean Catholic, but as the tradition of the church means Catholic, i.e., universal, open, searching for the truth of a mysterious and ever greater God made real and present to us in the salvific, constant presence of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ who comes to save, not condemn the world (cf. John 3:17).  Our faith is much more interested in leading people to live in justice and love which prefigures our eternal life with God, rather than judgmentally condemning to hell those some consider deficient. 

According to the Catholic faith, only God can render definitive judgment.  Neither you, nor I, nor anyone, truly know the state of Mr. Hitchens' or anyone else's soul.  And given that God is beyond time, the meaning of "time of death" may radically differ for Our Father in comparison to our time bound experience.

You write "Oops-I posted before I added: Your statement: 'The Catechism teaches that mortal sin is a "possibility," not a cast in concrete fact.'  This is absolutely incorrect."  Really?  Absolutely incorrect?  The Catechism states "Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself" (CCC #1861).  "Possibility..." the Cathechism's word, not mine.

Your inisistence that God cannot save anyone after death flies in the face of the constant practice of the church of praying for the dead.  If it's all over at the moment of death, prayers for the dead are useless.  And please review my comment above on the church's teaching on suicide.

We might do well to meditate on Matt 7:1 "Stop judging that you may not be judged."

 
david power
5 years 4 months ago
Lara,

I am not sure that you are as catholic as you like to think you are. You may be more Jansenist than you could ever dream of.
This of course is a grave sin and worthy of the interminable punishings of hell.Repent my girl while the clock is still ticking.
In the Gospels Jesus quite clearly states in Matthew 25 that there is a mystery after the veil is lifted.Read this chapter in full and do so with a prayerful heart.
You or nobody else knows what was in Hitchens heart and only God does so why don't you leave judgement to Him?.A basic of the catholic faith is respect for mystery and if you don't get used to that you will simply have to find another church ....
Catholicism ,for good and for bad, has recognised teachers and you are not one of them and for you to come on here and seek to educate priests shows that you must be new to the practise of the Faith.
It is most uncatholic to react to the death of somebody like you did, seeking heresy where it is not.Study your religion a little deeper and take up the works of Von Balthasar ,Rahner,Ratzinger,Lonergan,De Lubac  ,Giussani,Elizabeth Johnson, and many more.When you have covered at least a few of them come back and  you will have more to say and the shrill tone will be replaced with one of depth and maybe a little humility.

In short,God decides!  
Rick Malloy
5 years 4 months ago
http://www.romancatholicism.org/universal-salvation.htm
The following early Fathers of the Church are said to have taught that all will finally be saved.
 

    Pantaenus; Clement of Alexandria; Origen; Athanasius; Didymus the Blind; Macarius of Egypt; Gregory Thaumaturgus; Ambrose; Ephraim; John Chrysostum; Gregory of Nyssa; Gregory of Nazianzus; Jerome of Bethlehem; Evagrius Ponticus; Titus of Bastra; Asterius of Amasea; Cyril; Methodius of Tyre; Pamphilius Eusibius; Hillary of Poitiers; Victorinus; Macrina the Younger; Dionysius the Areopagite; John Cassian; Maximus the Confessor; Proclus of Constantinople; Peter Chrysologus; Diodorus of Tarsus; Stephen bar Sudaili.

 
There are various Bible passages that its advocates quote in support of it.
 

    But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 St. Peter 3:8-9)

 
Rick Malloy
5 years 4 months ago
http://www.romancatholicism.org/universal-salvation.htm
 
Universal Salvation in the Modern Church
 
The doctrine of universal salvation has become very popular in the modern Roman Catholic Church. St. Therese of the Child Jesus is said to have maintain it in the nineteenth Century when it was apparently still rare for anyone to do so. Pope John Paul made her a Doctor (a special teacher) of the Church and her little way spirituality of childlike trust in God has been heavily promoted amongst Catholics.
 

    St. Therese wrote a Christmas play for her sisters, in which the Child Jesus insists, in correction of the Angel of Vengeance, that, “every soul will find forgiveness”. On the last day, the Child Jesus will remain “the God of love” who suffered to recompense all of the sins of the entire human race.

 
Hans Urs von Balthasar argued in favour of the doctrine; he has been called Pope John Paul’s favourite theologian and he founded a theological journal with Ratzinger now Pope Benedict.
 

    In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II expresses forcefully the same position defended by Balthasar. If Christ desires the salvation of all and if there is a ‘real possibility of salvation in Christ for all humanity,’ hope for all is simply part of what it means to follow Christ.

 
Karl Rahner also popularised the doctrine amongst Catholics.
 
The Second Vatican Council maintained the doctrine that all will be saved in the Apokatastasis or Final Restoration of All Things. The following is taken from the constitution Gaudium et Spes (1:45, 2:57).
 
·         While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the Church has a single intention: that God’s kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass. For every benefit which the People of God during its earthly pilgrimage can offer to the human family stems from the fact that the Church is ‘the universal sacrament of salvation’ simultaneously manifesting and actualising the mystery of God’s love.

For God’s Word, by whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh so that as perfect man He might save all men and sum up all things in Himself. The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart and the answer to all its yearnings. He it is Whom the Father raised from the dead, lifted on high and stationed at His right hand, making Him judge of the living and the dead. Enlivened and united in His Spirit, we journey toward the consummation of human history, one which fully accords with the counsel of God’s love: ‘To reestablish all things in Christ, both those in the heavens and those on the earth’ (Eph. 1:10).

... Moreover, by the impulse of grace, he is disposed to acknowledge the Word of God, Who before He became flesh in order to save all and to sum up all in Himself was already ‘in the world’ as ‘the true light which enlightens every man’ (John 1:9-10).”
Rick Malloy
5 years 4 months ago
http://www.romancatholicism.org/universal-salvation.htm
Pope John Paul II often gave us to hope that all will be saved and taught the doctrine of universal salvation. The following are but three examples of many compiled.
 

    Eternal damnation remains a possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. (General Audience of July 28, 1999)

 

    Christ, Redeemer of man, now for ever ‘clad in a robe dipped in blood’ (Apoc, 19,13), the everlasting, invincible guarantee of universal salvation. (Message of John Paul II to the Abbess General of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour of St Bridget)

 

    If the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, is to convince the world precisely of this ‘judgment,’ undoubtedly he does so to continue Christ’s work aimed at universal salvation. We can therefore conclude that in bearing witness to Christ, the Paraclete is an assiduous (though invisible) advocate and defender of the work of salvation, and of all those engaged in this work. He is also the guarantor of the definitive triumph over sin and over the world subjected to sin, in order to free it from sin and introduce it into the way of salvation. (General Audience of May 24, 1989)

 
The new, post-Vatican II Catechism of the Catholic Church also gives us to hope that all will be saved.
 

    1058 The Church prays that no one should be lost: ‘Lord, let me never be parted from you.’ If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God ‘desires all men to be saved’ (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him ‘all things are possible’ (Mt 19:26).

 

    1821 We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for ‘all men to be saved.’

 
The new Roman Missal and Divine Office do too.
 

    Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again; bring them and all the departed into the light of your presence. Have mercy on us all. (Eucharistic Prayer II)
Amy Ho-Ohn
5 years 4 months ago
@Lara: I'm not completely on board with your understanding of the afterlife, but you are absolutely right to emphasize that the decisions we make in this world are not trivial and may very well (for all we know) be able to effect irrevocable and eternal separation from God. Many outstanding Christians have believed this doctrine and not a few have died to give witness to it. No rational person dismisses it lightly.

Above all, I congratulate you for standing up for your faith against the combox bullies, espceially the ontologically exalted among us. I'm not convinced you're right, but I sure admire the way you refuse to be browbeaten.
Glenn Dallaire
5 years 4 months ago
Luke 6:45: "A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks."
"...From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks"-so what comes out of our mouth is what is in our hearts, and the mouth of Christopher Hitchens often sought to tear down the Catholic church, Its teachings, and Its members. God alone knows the people that he led astray through his witty, but often venomous remarks against the faith.
I'm sorry, but those who honor and extol a person who repeatedly attacked the Catholic church are very, very wrong. This is the man who wrote horrid things about Blessed Mother Teresa and Pope Benedict. You don't honor and extol someone who dishonors and spews forth culumnies against your Church, your Pope, your Saints.....you betray Jesus and His Church when you give honor to such a man.
All that should be said and prayed in his honor is may God forgive him, and may He have mercy upon his soul.
Glenn Dallaire
-webmaster of www.mysticsofthechurch.com
david power
5 years 4 months ago
Amy,

I am not so sure there is a lot of virtue in what Lara is doing or writing.
Her Faith seems to be just that "her" faith.She is using the cathechism as a bludgeon and I promise you that Cardinal Schoenborn would not be happy that the book he spent so many years working on would be used in such an unchristian way.
Cardinal Schoenborn was the general editor of the cathechism  and he replaced Cardinal Groer in Vienna who was guilty of sexually abusing 100's of young seminarians.
How did Schoenborn react when Groer died?He said we must face the  "Majesty of death" with prayer for Groer.
Fr Martin said that  he "hoped" that Hitchens would be pleasantly surprized.He claimed ignorance as to the state of Hitchen's soul and did so in a christian way.
Lara upbraided him for not "knowing" that Hitchens was now in hell.She is claiming a knowledge that is not within her realm of knowledge as a contingent being and also is guilty of not sharing a christian hope and love for a fellow human being. These are grave sins.  Lara is probably falling into the heresy of gnosticism as well. Nobody is saying where Hitchens soul is except Lara.She is the only one guilty of presumption.She is not some little girl being rounded on by the bigger boys in the playground but is in fact the one taking to task those who harbour still the desire for the salvation of a fellow human being.She is the one who states that nobody can "redeem themselves " after death.I hope that was a typo because we do not redeem oursleves.She has on a few occasions spoken of the ignorance of other's with regards their faith and here again she is guilty of the first sin. Her constant refernces to Oprah etc say a lot more about Lara than those she is trying to demean. We do not have to be hippies or hooked on chat shows which offer empty spiritualities to believe in the greater catholic tradition.To believe in the Mercy of God which she has come to see as a loosening of the grip and laxity.   
Norman Costa
5 years 4 months ago
 
@ Father Jim:

Thank you for being generous in your thoughts about Christopher Hitchens and his passing. I am still in awe at what a friend of mine describes as his ''...rare gift of being...effortlessly articulate...''. Just thinking about it makes my jaw begin an involuntary drop. I wish I could write a fraction as well as Hitch. I have long abandoned any hope of amassing Hitch-like volumns of facts, and near instaneous recall with context appropriate placement.

One of my favorite debates is with Hitchens and theologian Fr. Lorenzo Albacete. Fr. Albacete has been one who responds to the person who says, ''I am a Communist,'' with ''Then be a good Communist.'' To the self-identifying atheist he says, ''Then be a good athiest.'' If I had to make a choice between listening to Albacete and Hitchens, it would be a tough decision to make. 

It is very interesting that you talk of the idea of 'fairness' in the story of the Prodigal Son. There is a theology of fairness in the Prodigal Son, several of Jesus' parables, and in Paul's letters to the Romans that is completely at odds with a natural and human understanding of what is fair. The Prodigal Son's brother is a very good example, because he is absolutely correct about the unfairness of the situation. What is fair about the fact that Adolph Hitler could have availed himself, in the final moments of his life, of Paul's justification by faith, and come into the presence of God? 

The call by an itinerant preacher, to a poor occupied tribe, in a small corner of the Roman Empire for a complete change of heart to usher in the Kingdom of God challenges some of the most fundamental ideas of our species - in this case, fairness. He doesn't make it easy for us. Msgr. Albacete struggles, every day, to reconcile his faith with very real images of human unfairness. Christopher Hitchens looks at what is unfair, and can find no earthly reason why it should be tolerated by a caring personal God. I find it hard to argue against either of them. I can only repeat what I said, only a couple of sentences ago. He doesn't make it easy for us.
Leslie Rabbitt
5 years 4 months ago
May God bless Christopher Hitchens. He stirred, he provoked, he invited our critical thinking skills. I agree with Father Jim there may have been a hunger deep within Mr. Hitchens to believe.  This I know for sure:   atheist or not, Mr. Hitchens as a child of God is my "brother from another mother".  Do I want to meet him in Heaven (assuming I would ever be worthy, but for the Mercy of God)?  Yes.  Rest in Peace, Mr. Hitchens and may I also experience the tremendous love and mercy of our God.
John Barbieri
5 years 4 months ago
If I recall correctly, Abraham Joshua Heschel said:
'' If we think of G_D as judge, we also recall that G_D is father.
  No father would judge his children without being merciful.
  From this it follows that G_D's judgments of us are redemptive not vindictive.''

Christopher can safely be left to G_D as I hope all of us can! 
 
Craig McKee
5 years 4 months ago
One for the joke file:

The Atheist's Tombstone-

Here lies an atheist,

All dressed up
And no place to go!

When analyzing Mr. Hitchens' thoughts, I think we must be careful to distinguish his feelings about organized religion vs. God. After plowing through his GOD IS NOT GOOD, HOW RELIGION POISONS EVERYTHING and listening to his arguments on the Intelligence Squared debates, I came to two conclusions.

1)  He projects a large quantity of his venom against religion onto GOD. Such projection is actually a rather healthy thing, because in many ways, he is NOT wrong about what the world's organized religions of the BOOK in the West have de-volved into: human infrastructures wracked with ineptitude, failings and even downright corruption.

2) He writes as a man whose death is a result of the POISONS he continued to ingest into his own body, just like his father before him.

Now, as far as Fr. Martin's purgatorial perorations (and numerous other respondents here), perhaps a dip into Jacques LE GOFF'S The Birth of Purgatory would be in order..
http://www.amazon.com/Birth-Purgatory-Jacques-Goff/dp/0226470830

michael murphy
5 years 4 months ago
Is "America" Catholic? Without a doubt. Where else can we find a venue that hosts the complexity of thought that surrounds the death of an important man? I've attended many debates featuring Hitch and was mirthfully annoyed by both his formidable intellect and his woefully entrenched narcissism. I'll miss him. As Mr. Power rightly points out, the dynamic on our end concerns our interpretations of the divine dynamic between justice and mercy. On our end, we want (and, for many, need) retributive  justice: Hitch, in the spirit of Lewis's insight about hell's doors being locked from the inside, has earned, by his speech acts (and more), a place outside the fold and we "need" that to be true. His body of work and thought was his choice and his use of his own freedom. He made his choices, cantakoursly and gleefully. But Hitch is (was) damaged goods (like most/all of us) and has been pissed at God since his mom committed suicide (let us not forget his brother Peter in this who is an entirely different Hitch). in my view, while it is foolhardy to over-psychoanalyze too much, the interior experience of the man is relevant. Fr. Malloy's judicious citing of theologians whose thought actually consitutes our catechism is a well posited. More importantly, it points to Mercy, which is the more fecundating and mysterious aspect of our faith. Balthasar, working from Origen (and Maximus) said it boldly in the title of an important book: "Dare We Hope that all Men be Saved?" The question mark is key-as is all grammar and syntax when we engage in "God talk." Balthasar knew what his work was and he knew what the work of the Holy Spirit is. Hope is a theological virtue and it is one that is infused-not gained by our own merits (and it is here where dear Lara falls into the Pelagian trap).  Dare we hope Chris Hitchens is saved? Yes. He spoke calumny and was a theological degenerate and is worthy of hellish scorn by our mundane reckoning. But, as Mercy and Grace rule-count on it, my frail friends-I pray he is saved. I'll go further. I know it. I look forward to giving him a good drubbing down the road. Happy Advent, good people.
MATTHEW NANNERY
5 years 4 months ago
Hitchens' last Vanity Fair column is worth reading, especially for hospital chaplains or anyone heading out to do CPE for the first time:
http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/01/hitchens-201201
GREGORY GUITERAS MR
5 years 4 months ago
Christopher Hitchins usually annoyed the, um, hell out of me when going out of his competence to trash religious belief. But he was a tireless seeker, never indifferent or complacent about the reality he devoted most of his life trying to fathom. He challenged our comfortable certainties, and in this he was prophetic.

Meeting God, forgiven by God, attaining heaven, are man-made images. The divine is revealed somewhere, somehow in the image, but the image is not God. The Divine is incarnate in Us. If Christopher (Christ Bearer) is in the afterlife, I believe he is incarnate within those he touched, challenged, changed - and annoyed.
GREGORY GUITERAS MR
5 years 4 months ago
Christopher Hitchins usually annoyed the, um, hell out of me when going out of his competence to trash religious belief. But he was a tireless seeker, never indifferent or complacent about the reality he devoted most of his life trying to fathom. He challenged our comfortable certainties, and in this he was prophetic.

Meeting God, forgiven by God, attaining heaven, are man-made images. The divine is revealed somewhere, somehow in the image, but the image is not God. The Divine is incarnate in Us. If Christopher (Christ Bearer) is in the afterlife, I believe he is incarnate within those he touched, challenged, changed - and annoyed.
Norman Costa
5 years 4 months ago
 
@ Michael:

Say what? 
Norman Costa
5 years 4 months ago
 
@ Greg:

I disagree about the ''...out of his competence...'' remark. No matter, though, because I believe the theologically rigorous amongst us will have a go at your second paragraph. Hang firm. I hope they leave it alone, especially, ''The Divine is incarnate within Us.'' 
Beth Cioffoletti
5 years 4 months ago
From the NY Times: "it was “impossible for me to imagine having my life without going to those parties, without having those late nights, without that second bottle.”"

Don't you just love the spiritual HEALTH of that statement?

Christopher Hitchens unwaveringly trusted in WHAT IS, without getting mired in the muck of God-talk.  He faced his death, totally trusting the the integrity of here and now and who he is.

THat is some kind of radical faith, if you ask me.  Prophetic and saintly.  But that we all could make that leap.
Stanley Kopacz
5 years 4 months ago
His enthusiastic support for the adventurous wars of the last decade makes me automatically not a fan.  I wouldn't send him to hell but a period of 100,000 dead Iraqi lifetimes (7M years?) spent explaining to them why their deaths and suffering were a good idea might be appropriate.  Funny how much easier it is to imagine a purgatory or a hell than heaven.

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