Question: Can our departed loved ones send us messages from heaven? I have spoken to many who believe that they have, indeed, received positive affirmations, guidance, signs, symbols, etc.
— Name withheld, Phoenix
Answer: There could be certain instances where the Lord permits a soul in heaven to send us a word, message, sign or consolation. However, this does not seem to be something we should regularly expect, and we should be very discerning before simply accepting that something is a message from a departed soul.
Most certainly to be avoided is any conjuring of the dead through mediums, seances or other methods (cf. Dt 18:10; Lv 19:31; 20:27). Such actions are prohibited by the First Commandment since they violate our trust in God and seek to know the future or obtain other knowledge. This is done apart from simply trusting that God has revealed to us what we must know to be saved.
In another biblical account, we also see a general dismissal of the dead taking to the living. In the parable of the Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man asks that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers so that they don’t end up in torment. But Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them” (Lk 16:29). In other words, God’s general expectation is for us to rely on what he has revealed through Scripture and the teachings of the Church. This precludes any regular need for us to get messages from the souls in heaven. Surely, they pray for us there and they, too, trust that God will send necessary graces, nudges and reminders.
Hence, while it is possible God sometimes allows the souls in heaven to send messages, this would seem to be rare, and our best bet is to stick to the solid meat and potatoes of God’s word in Scripture and Church teaching.
Assumptions about family in heaven
Question: Often on Facebook and other sites, people speak of deceased loved ones as being in heaven. What are we to think of this sort of expression, and how should we speak of the deceased?
— Mila Glodava, via email
Answer: On the one hand, we can see expressions like this as a hopeful and polite way of speaking of the dead. Theologically, however, simply declaring or assuming a person is in heaven is wrong for a number of reasons. First, we take the judgment seat that belongs to Christ. Second, we may well engage in presumption. Third, we often mislead people into dubious hope or presumption. Fourth, we often deprive the dead who are in purgatory the prayers they need and deserve from us.
Scripture does not say that we die and go straight to heaven. We have a little appointment to keep: the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 5:10; Heb 9:27). This is certainly worth praying about! And even if the judgment is not about hell, a second judgment concerns the imperfections and sorrows that must be purged (cf. 1 Cor 3:12-15), for nothing imperfect can enter heaven (cf. Rv 21:27). It isn’t just our sins or the effects of them that need to be removed, but we also carry things we know we can’t take to heaven, such as regrets, past hurts, sorrows, etc. Christ must wipe these tears from our eyes (cf. Rv 7:17; 21:4).
Therefore, it is proper to assume that when our loved ones die, they go through some period of purification and purgation. How lengthy this is and how time here relates to “time” in purgatory or heaven is unknown.
Perhaps a better way of speaking of our loved one is the traditional way: “Uncle Joe died two years ago. May he rest in peace.” This avoids fake canonizations and inspires prayer. It reminds others that Uncle Joe is in the care of God, who knows what is right, just, best and necessary.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at blog.adw.org. Send questions to email@example.com.