Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

In your faith, is there a heaven and hell, a limbo and purgatory? Are they real places or states of mind?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church responds. No. 1024, states "Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness". No. 1034, says "This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called hell". In no. 1261 we read that those who die without baptism are entrusted to the mercy of God who desires that everyone should be saved. No. 1030, states that Purgatory is a period of purification, but reminds us that the eternal salvation of those who go there, is assured.

They ought not to be dismissed as mythological creations of an earlier, uncritical age. They are present realities in our long past that intimate what lies beyond this world in the next life. Because our true desires and selves cannot be fulfilled or finally perfected in this life, it is important that these concepts maintain their status as transcendent realms of being beyond our earthly existence, as the possible final ends of life held out to every soul.

It might be prudent to learn from the critiques of the "facile belief in the afterlife" offered by the hermeneutics of suspicion of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud where afterlife is viewed as a pious distraction from the pressing problems of life and a false, selfish substitute for the concerns of this world.

Our authentic hope, however, does not denigrate responsibility in this world, but sees it in the context of ultimate salvation - not only the salvation of every person but of the world itself. What awaits us after death is unknowable, but those who abide in love may find solace in the Pauls words: "No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him (1Cor 2:9).