1.43 What happens when we die?
Many people fear death. We are always alone when we die: we leave behind everything that we know and enter a new reality. When we die, our body remains on earth and our soul appears before God. We will be confronted with the way we lived our life.
If we have tried in our lives to love God and our fellow men, we will enter heaven (possibly via purgatory). In heaven we will be happy forever with God. Only those who consciously and permanently reject God’s love will go to hell.
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The Wisdom of the Church
What does it mean to die in Christ Jesus?
Dying in Christ Jesus means to die in the state of God's grace without any mortal sin. A believer in Christ, following his example, is thus able to transform his own death into an act of obedience and love for the Father. “This saying is sure: if we have died with him, we will also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11). [CCCC 206]
How does Christ help us at our death, if we trust in him?
Christ comes to meet us and leads us into eternal life. "Not death, but God will take me” (St. Thérèse of Lisieux).
In view of Jesus’ suffering and death, death itself can become easier. In an act of trust and love for the Father, we can say Yes, as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. Such an attitude is called “spiritual sacrifice”: the dying person unites himself with Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. Someone who dies this way, trusting in God and at peace with men, and thus without serious sin, is on the way to communion with the risen Christ. Our dying makes us fall no farther than into his hands. A person who dies does not travel to anywhere but rather goes home into the love of God, who created him. [Youcat 155]
What happens to us when we die?
In death body and soul are separated. The body decays, while the soul goes to meet God and waits to be reunited with its risen body on the Last day.
How the resurrection will take place is a mystery. An image can help us to accept it: When we look at a tulip bulb we cannot tell into what a marvelously beautiful flower it will develop in the dark earth. Similarly, we know nothing about the future appearance of our new body. Paul is nevertheless certain: “It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory” (1 Cor 15:43a). [Youcat 154]
This is what the Church Fathers say
Each one will be presented to the Judge exactly as he was when he departed this life. Yet, there must be a cleansing fire before judgment, because of some minor faults that may remain to be purged away. Does not Christ, the Truth, say that if anyone blasphemes against the Holy Spirit he shall not be forgiven 'either in this world or in the world to come' (Mt. 12:32)? From this statement we learn that some sins can be forgiven in this world and some in the world to come. [St. Gregory the Great, Dialogues 4:39 (ML 77, 396)]