The National Catholic Review


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.

Comments

JIM MCCREA | 12/17/2011 - 6:14pm
With the kind of theology as expressed by Ceolfrio & Lara, I am convinced more than ever that:

Intra eccles nulla salus.

If their idea of Catholicism is what Christ intended for His church on earth, count me even further out than I am already.
Anonymous | 12/17/2011 - 5:40pm
Fr. Bill, I do get the point of the parable. The issue is that the prodigal son was contrite and was on his way to beg forgiveness from his father. The father in his magnanimity approached the son first. So yes God's love is extravagant. However we must cooperate with grace and be sorry for our sins not spit in God's eye and expect salvation anyway. Nor can I be compared to the eldest son. I do not, cannot desire Mr. Hitchens damnation. But as in the case of a deceased abortionist I am glad he is gone to cause no more damage. Good riddance to him.

Now you have just contradicted yourself with myself and Ceolfrio. First you tell me we do not worship the pope, the councils etc. Then you tell Ceolfrio that he is outside the Church for refusing Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council. Please make up your mind Fr.
Bill Freeman | 12/17/2011 - 5:08pm
@ 80 - Ceolfrio -  To deny the teaching authority of the Second Vatian Council is hesesy.  And to try to create a causal connection between the Council and subsequent issues is an enormous leap.  It seems to me that you have placed yourself outside of the Church by denying the teaching authority of the Council and the Magisterium since all Council's documents were issued by Pope Paul VI.  Do you not accept the teaching authority of the Vicar of Christ?  
Bill Freeman | 12/17/2011 - 4:58pm
@76 - Marc -  You miss the entire point of the parable of the Prodigal Son.  The older son just didn't get it and it seems like you aren't getting it either.  It's not about rules and regulations; if it were the elder son would have won the day - but he didn't.  


The entire point of the parable is that God's love is extravagent and not legalistic.
 The God of the Incarnation is not - repeat - is not a God of calculation.  The univesal call to Gospel love superceeds anythig that the Church coudd teach - anything.  


Marc, we don't worship the Church, Roman or otherwise, we don't worship the Pope, or the Councils for that matter.  We don't worship the Catechism (Baltimore of othervise).  We worship - we are in relationship with the Father who searches the horizon to cathch a glimpse of his son.  Don't miss the point of the parable. Don't do that. It's not about the Church.
Céolfrið æf Dealgancæster | 12/17/2011 - 4:54pm
Fr. Bill, with respect, are you serious?  To what ‘work of Vatican II’ are you referring?
Here is what one Vatican II era Catholic cardinal had to say about the travesty that was Vatican II:
‘If the Church were not divine, this Council [the Second Vatican Council] would have buried Her.’
—Cdl. Giuseppe Siri

But, perhaps this is merely the opinion of one man to you.  Here are the facts, according to one source (ref: http://olrl.org/misc/jones_stats.shtml):
‘Thirty-seven years after the end of the only church council of the 20th century, the jury has come in with its verdict: Vatican II appears to have been an unrelieved disaster for Roman Catholicism... Here are Jones's grim statistics of Catholicism's decline:
Priests. ...By 2020, there will be only 31,000 priests left (in the United States), and more than half of these priests will be over 70.
Ordinations. ...Today, there are 3,000 priestless parishes, 15 percent of all U.S. parishes.
Seminarians. ...Two-thirds of the 600 seminaries that were operating in 1965 have now closed.
Sisters. ...In 1965, there were 104,000 teaching nuns. Today, there are 8,200, a decline of 94 percent since the end of Vatican II.
Religious Orders. ...In 1965, there were 912 seminarians in the Christian Brothers. In 2000, there were only seven.
The number of young men studying to become Franciscan and Redemptorist priests fell from 3,379 in 1965 to 84 in 2000.
Catholic schools. Almost half of all Catholic high schools in the United States have closed since 1965.
Catholic Marriage. Catholic marriages have fallen in number by one-third since 1965, while the annual number of annulments has soared from 338 in 1968 to 50,000 in 2002.
Attendance at Mass. ...A recent study by the University of Notre Dame found that only one in four now attend.
...Through the papacy of Pius XII, the church resisted the clamor to accommodate itself to the world and remained a moral beacon to mankind. Since Vatican II, the church has sought to meet the world halfway.’
'Index of Leading Catholic Indicators: The Church since Vatican II' (113 pages) by Kenneth C. Jones is available at many bookstores.
Norman Costa | 12/17/2011 - 4:46pm
 
@ Craig B. McKee #45, Hong Kong:
 
I loved your humorous epitaph for an atheist, so I would like to return the favor. The comedian, Rowan Atkinson, did a very funny bit as the devil welcoming new arrivals to Hell. He has many very funny lines, among them one for atheists, and one for Christians. Enjoy. You can find it HERE
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woY9Vzp40HQ&feature=related
 
 
Céolfrið æf Dealgancæster | 12/17/2011 - 4:46pm
‘I see too many Roman Catholics of similar ilk that want to repudiate the work of Vatican II...’
Fr. Bill, with respect, are you serious?  To what ‘work of Vatican II’ are you referring?
Here is what one Vatican II era Catholic cardinal had to say about the travesty that was Vatican II:
‘If the Church were not divine, this Council
—Cdl. Giuseppe Siri
But, perhaps this is merely the opinion of one man to you.  Here are the facts, according to one source (ref: http://olrl.org/misc/jones_stats.shtml):
‘Thirty-seven years after the end of the only church council of the 20th century, the jury has come in with its verdict: Vatican II appears to have been an unrelieved disaster for Roman Catholicism... Here are Jones's grim statistics of Catholicism's decline:
Priests. ...By 2020, there will be only 31,000 priests left (in the United States), and more than half of these priests will be over 70.
Ordinations. ...Today, there are 3,000 priestless parishes, 15 percent of all U.S. parishes.
Seminarians. ...Two-thirds of the 600 seminaries that were operating in 1965 have now closed.
Sisters. ...In 1965, there were 104,000 teaching nuns. Today, there are 8,200, a decline of 94 percent since the end of Vatican II.
Religious Orders. ...In 1965, there were 912 seminarians in the Christian Brothers. In 2000, there were only seven.
The number of young men studying to become Franciscan and Redemptorist priests fell from 3,379 in 1965 to 84 in 2000.
Catholic schools. Almost half of all Catholic high schools in the United States have closed since 1965.
Catholic Marriage. Catholic marriages have fallen in number by one-third since 1965, while the annual number of annulments has soared from 338 in 1968 to 50,000 in 2002.
Attendance at Mass. ...A recent study by the University of Notre Dame found that only one in four now attend.
...Through the papacy of Pius XII, the church resisted the clamor to accommodate itself to the world and remained a moral beacon to mankind. Since Vatican II, the church has sought to meet the world halfway.’
''Index of Leading Catholic Indicators: The Church since Vatican II'' (113 pages) by Kenneth C. Jones is available at many bookstores.
Norman Costa | 12/17/2011 - 4:42pm

@ Craig B. McKee, Hong Kong:

I loved your humorous epitaph, so I would like to return the favor. The comedian, Rowan Atkinson, did a very funny bit as the devil welcoming new arrivals to Hell. He has many very funny lines, among them one for atheists, and one for Christians. Enjoy. You can find it HERE.
 
 
Anonymous | 12/17/2011 - 4:23pm
Fr. Bill, it sounds to me like you are the judgemental one accusing Lara of a bad heart which is a normal tactic when one can't repudiate what the person says. And you can't repudiate what she says simply because she is reiterating traditional church teaching.

Michael, there is nothing judgemental in what I wrote. I did not judge where Mr. Hitchens went after death unlike James Martin SJ. I merely stated what the Church has always taught, that he who dies in the state of mortal sin goes to hell. Only God and Mr. Hitchens knows the answer to where he is. And yes I hold fast the teaching that there is no salvation outside the church. It is what the church has always taught until of course Vatican II which even the council fathers declared non dogmatic. I think what bothers you is that I do not write like some emasculated effeminate post vatican II "catholic".  
Céolfrið æf Dealgancæster | 12/17/2011 - 4:21pm
‘There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved.’
—Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, A.D. 1215
Matthew Pettigrew | 12/17/2011 - 4:11pm
Dear Mr. Dupuis: You write about Christopher Hitchens that "He can no longer turn souls away from the one and only path to salvation." Let me assure you that the Catholic Church and some of its adherents - including some who comment on this blog - have done that quite well without the assistance of Mr. Hitchens.
Norman Costa | 12/17/2011 - 4:05pm
 
@ Marc #69: 

People, here and elsewhere, have disagreed with Fr. Jim. I could be baring my ignorance, but I have yet to read anything of his that could be called a 'diatribe.'' Is anything here a bitter, forceful, abusive verbal attack on someone or something by Fr. Jim? Has he written satiric and ironic criticism? 

If anyone can find such material by Fr. Jim, I'll have to reconsider my opinion of him.  Let's see: Fr. Jim, bad ass! Hmmmmm. Nope, it doesn't compute.
 
 
Bill Freeman | 12/17/2011 - 3:46pm
@69 - Marc - Do you realize how absolutely judgmental and vicious your comments sound?  Do you seriously believe that the Roman Chuch is "the one and only path to salvation?"  Seriously?  Have your read Scripture and the documents of Vatican II that you so conveniently disparage?  Do you realize that there is no higher teaching authority than that of an ecumenical council - and one that met over a four-year period?  Are you for real?
Bill Freeman | 12/17/2011 - 3:39pm
Lara - I find your comments nothing short of blasphemy, an offense against the Incarnation and the redeeming act of Christ on the cross.  You epitomize for me what is so wrong with the CCC, just an update of the Baltimore Catechism. I see too many Roman Catholics of similar ilk that want to repudiate the work of Vatican II and opt out of the hard work of personal conversion and building a great heart.  Your comments of superiority – the 'I know what God will do' - is the same spitefulness that Fr. Martin and Fr. Henri Nouwen spoke of so well regarding the older son. There is a joke among clergy: 'What did the older son do when he grew up?  He became a Catholic priest."


The opinions that you hold and the haughtiness that you and others have demonstrated in these posts are why so many find the very notion of the redeeming love of God to be such a shell game.  While it is not for me to judge your heart, I would ask that with the guidance of a holy confessor, you examine some of your assumptions about the extravagant love of God so clearly voiced in the parable of the Prodigal Son. 


I am so very thankful that God-with-us is a God who is in relationship with us, inviting us into His loving embrace whether it be here or in the next life.  As a hospice chaplain, I am learning not to make any assumptions regarding the state of anyone’s soul. 


I pray that you don't have anything to do with Christian education and that your proof-texting and use of the CCC as your personal scorecard is limited to you own piety.  Truly, Lara, I will pray for you. 
Bill Freeman | 12/17/2011 - 3:38pm
Lara - I find your comments nothing short of blasphemy, an offense against the Incarnation and the redeeming act of Christ on the cross.  You epitomize for me what is so wrong with the CCC, just an update of the Baltimore Catechism. I see too many Roman Catholics of similar ilk that want to repudiate the work of Vatican II and opt out of the hard work of personal conversion and building a great heart.  Your comments of superiority – the ''I know what God will do'' - is the same spitefulness that Fr. Martin and Fr. Henri Nouwen spoke of so well regarding the older son. There is a joke among clergy: ''What did the older son do when he grew up?  He became a Catholic priest.''
The opinions that you hold and the haughtiness that you and others have demonstrated in these posts are why so many find the very notion of the redeeming love of God to be such a shell game.  While it is not for me to judge your heart, I would ask that with the guidance of a holy confessor, you examine some of your assumptions about the extravagant love of God so clearly voiced in the parable of the Prodigal Son. 
I am so very thankful that God-with-us is a God who is in relationship with us, inviting us into His loving embrace whether it be here or in the next life.  As a hospice chaplain, I am learning not to make any assumptions regarding the state of anyone’s soul. 
I pray that you don't have anything to do with Christian education and that your proof-texting and use of the CCC as your personal scorecard is limited to you own piety.  Truly, Lara, I will pray for you. 
Marc Dupuis | 12/17/2011 - 3:09pm
The erroneous diatribe of James Martin SJ alluding that one is saved regardless of the state of their soul at death or that all are saved is typical of the post Vatican II clergy where most suffer from the infectious malais of ecumenism. Despite 2000 years of Church teaching to the contrary they think they know better.

As far as Mr. Hitchens goes, I truly hope he would have the grace of final repentance or he will be damned. No one desires this, least of all me. God is his judge. However he is now dead and can no longer disparage the Catholic Church or blaspheme God. He can no longer turn souls away from the one and only path to salvation. So the fact his tongue and fingers can now rot off for all the verbal and written blasphemies against Almighty God and His beloved Bride the Holy Catholic Church, and all the damage he has done is a good thing. Good riddance to bad rubbish. 
Beth Cioffoletti | 12/17/2011 - 3:04pm
David - I didn't get it until I got to the 2nd video of the inebriated bliss.  The Mr. Jeeves, I just didn't understand.

I have a good friend who has said, for a long time, "Either we all go to heaven or we all don't go!"

It takes awhile to get to that place of knowing, deep in one's soul, that we're each and all pretty depraved and none of us deserve anything, much less heaven and everlasting life.  It's all gift.
Céolfrið æf Dealgancæster | 12/17/2011 - 2:03pm
The only possible hope for the soul of Mr. Hitchens is if he were somehow invincibly ignorant of his responsibility to belong to the Catholic Church, lived an otherwise virtuous life, and died having been contrite for any sins he may have committed during his life.

That is the Catholic teaching.
Jacqueline O'Boomer | 12/16/2011 - 5:09pm
Father Martin - Honestly, I was looking for something like this ''pleasantly surprised'' take of yours, today!  Love it.  Especially the part about Mother Teresa in heaven.

I always like to say to those who aren't sure that they believe in God, that I choose to believe in God ''with the free will that God gave me.''  

I'll keep praying for Christopher, and I ask your prayers for me - and my family members.  

Merry Christmas!
Norman Costa | 12/17/2011 - 1:56pm
 
Re #61:

I don't agree with the sentiment expressed by Ken in #61. However, he makes some good observations and raises important questions. 

Hitchens could not say enough about what was wrong with the theology of the Church, the behavior of the hierarchy who lead it, and the credulous believers that go along with them.  One does not have to agree with Hitchens to acknowledge that few could say it more eloquently, more persuasively, nor be as articulate in speech and pen.

Ken has every right to question the apparent jealous admiration for his talents. Is there not a real Catholic among us who is more deserving of our accolades?

In my personal view, Hitchens says, aloud, what every Catholic must confront in an honest assessment of thier own beliefs and faith. Can we be good without God? In our sacred literature, how do we distinguish between allegory and what is historical fact we are compelled to believe? How can the teaching authority of the Church, manifest in our Cardinals and bishops, get so many things so wrong? Why does the Church obsess on providing unconvincing pat answers to questions that have no answer? Can an honest and sincere anti-theist find salvation?

How many of us have hung on every word of Hitchens charges, and waited for the panel member who is a believer to give the answer that will convince, not Hitchens, but ourselves that our Church has got it right? Many of us have had to find our own answers, and they are not all the same.
 
 
MARK CANALES | 12/17/2011 - 1:42pm
For those who say this cannot be, I would suggest three reflections on the matter:

Gulley and Mulholland "If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person" (A quaker view of the question citing many Catholic sources.)

Anthony Campbell, S.J. "God First Loved Us" (A very deep and presonal reflection of God's Love)

Han Urs Von Balthathsar "Dare We Hope "That All Men Will Be Saved"? with a Short Discourse On Hell" (A excellent discussion of Roman Catholic belief over the centuries and why we may dare hope)

For any who doubt his credibility on the topic, three points of note:

1. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) is among the sources quoted in support of this argument.

2. Pope John Paul II thought so highly of his work that he elevated him to the Cardinalate though he died before the installation.

3. Cardinal Ratzinger spoke at his funeral. His remarks are translated as "What the pope intended to express by this mark of distinction [elevation to the Cardinalate], and of honor, remains valid, no longer only private individuals but the Church itself, in its official responsibility, tells us that he is right in what he teaches of the faith."

 I offer these not for argument but as an invitation to reflect that God's love may be not only more than we imagine but more than we can imagine.
david power | 12/17/2011 - 1:41pm
 I was being tongue-in-cheek Beth, It doesn't seem to travel the Atlantic :(.
Norman Costa | 12/17/2011 - 1:08pm
 
Re: #62:

''And, if God is just, Christopher Hitchens will not rest in peace.'' This is the voice of the Prodigal Son's brother. I do not say this in a derogatory or spiteful way. ''What's fair is fair,''  is the sentiment, and it is difficult to argue against the idea, and I do not fault Céolfrið for saying it.

As I had written in #42, above, in calling for a complete change of heart to usher in the Kingdom of God on Earth, He doesn't make it easy on us. It's damn near impossible.
 
 
Céolfrið æf Dealgancæster | 12/17/2011 - 12:39pm
Catholic Christians also believe in a Just God.

And, if God is just, Christopher Hitchens will not rest in peace.


Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.
KEN CHAISON | 12/17/2011 - 12:20pm
''.... Christopher Hitchens, famous atheist, fearless polemicist and, in his own unique way, brave seeker, will now be pleasantly surprised by God.''

Fr. Martin... Cradle catholic (small c intended) here... who believes in what you wrote, except, perhaps, the notion of purgatory.  I think that purgatory is purely a human construct - do not see it anywhere in the NASB.  It is a rationalization mechanism on our part for believing that no one is ever permanently doomed to hell, regardless of what they do on earth.

HOWEVER, what bothers me about your article is, not so much the theology, but rather that it approaches the point of being a eulogy in praise of the man.  As the quote, above, implies, he was famous, fearless, unique, brave and a seeker.  Those same adjectives could/should be spoken about Jesus, himself.

Your nice, long article includes a complementary, young-looking photo of the man and the messianic-like praises, mentioned above.  One might deduce that you are in awe or even jealous of the man... i.e.... 'look at what he got away with all these years, denying God and spewing hate, but now he gets to be with God!  Wow!'

I hope that I am wrong about your underlying motivation for the article, but I also hope that this is one issue of AMERICA that young people do NOT read.
Norman Costa | 12/17/2011 - 11:18am
 
@ Abe:

Always good to hear from you when you stop by. You make me think that there must be a literary or dramatic figure to whom you can be likened. It is someone who pops in, now and then, and takes stock of what he sees and hears. He observes, he's quiet, he listens, he thinks. Sometimes there are pleasant surprises, even a few real gems. Maybe some of these folks have got it right? There is hope.

Then comes the self-delivered slap against the forehead, and the incredulity that someone could really say/believe/think/promote/write such a thing. ''Why do I keep coming back?'' Please keep coming back. We all need a whack upside the head once in a while. If you don't deliver it, who will?
 
 
Beth Cioffoletti | 12/17/2011 - 11:06am
Marie, I think that we do, indeed, cease to exist when we die - at least in the ego-ish way in which we know ourselves as we walk on this side of death.

In the end, I think that as we are drawn toward death we surrender that ego-self.  Simply let it go.
Beth Cioffoletti | 12/17/2011 - 11:03am
I know what you mean, Stanley (#54) about the Iraq War.  But none of us get it all right, and I forgive Hitch for that one. 

And I have no new theology, David (#55) ... same one that's been around for 2000 years, though a bit more apophatic (and contemplative) than most are used to hearing it.
Marie Rehbein | 12/17/2011 - 10:19am
"Funny how much easier it is to imagine a purgatory or a hell than heaven."

In fairness to the departed, are we not under some obligation to imagine nothingness?  Mr. Hitchens might simply have ceased to exist; maybe because it is what he wanted.
Stanley Kopacz | 12/17/2011 - 8:02am
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.
Beth Cioffoletti | 12/17/2011 - 7:28am
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.
Norman Costa | 12/17/2011 - 12:18am
 
@ 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.'' 
Norman Costa | 12/17/2011 - 12:01am
 
@ Michael:

Say what? 
GREGORY GUITERAS MR | 12/16/2011 - 11:57pm
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 | 12/16/2011 - 11:57pm
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.
MATTHEW NANNERY | 12/16/2011 - 11:32pm
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
michael murphy | 12/16/2011 - 11:16pm
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.
Craig McKee | 12/16/2011 - 11:03pm
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

John Barbieri | 12/16/2011 - 10:55pm
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! 
 
Leslie Rabbitt | 12/16/2011 - 10:52pm
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.
Norman Costa | 12/16/2011 - 10:47pm
 
@ 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.
david power | 12/16/2011 - 10:00pm
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.   
Glenn Dallaire | 12/16/2011 - 9:46pm
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
Amy Ho-Ohn | 12/16/2011 - 9:26pm
@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.
Rick Malloy | 12/16/2011 - 9:12pm
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)
Rick Malloy | 12/16/2011 - 9:09pm
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 | 12/16/2011 - 9:07pm
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)

 
david power | 12/16/2011 - 8:38pm
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!  

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