FEATURED STORIES (THOSE WHO SAW HEAVEN)
HEAVEN – THOSE WHO VISITED AND CAME BACK
I have compiled the stories of some of the more credible witnesses to the afterlife, and have written up the highlights of their adventures based on their own testimony (see column on left).
The “near-death experiences” I chose to feature are particularly compelling because of the authentic manner in which the stories unfolded, the evidence presented, and the profound way in which some of the individuals changed their lives upon returning to Earth.
Even in the Bible, we see New Testament authors Saint Paul (2 Cor. 12:2) and John (author of the last book of the Bible) attesting to their visits to or visions of heaven. The many scenes witnessed by John include angels, a vision of the risen Christ, and the heavenly city.
Author Michael H. Brown – in his book, The Other Side – has noted that near-death experiences were also recorded by Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century (see p. 145), Venerable Bede in the 7th century, and Plato in 380 B.C., as recorded in Plato’s Republic.
Based on a 1992 Gallup Poll, it is estimated that 13 million Americans had a near-death experience during their lifetime.
One of them was Mother Angelica, the founder of EWTN and perhaps the most famous Catholic woman in America. Her experience was minor compared to some of the stories we have featured, but she did say that while comatose, she found herself in a dark room: "I could feel Our Lord's presence on the right side. I though, Well, I'm dying." She began praying, saying, "Jesus and Mary, I love you, save souls!' Soon after, she saw her soul leave her body. "It went out and came back three times," she told her biographer, Raymond Arroyo. She would later say she no longer feared death (Arroyo, Mother Angelica, p. 310-311).
Although the bodies of many NDE recipients had approached or reached clinical death, plenty of them were in good health when their spirits traveled to the beyond.
Studies of thousands of NDE cases show marked consistency in the experiences of the afterlife, including the presence of God, light more brilliant than the sun, and remarkably similar physical sensations, sights and sounds, both inside and outside the gates. The friends and family members they encounter in heaven are always deceased.
Most of all, the visitors to the heavenly city are struck with a profound sense that heaven is their true home, that God is pure love, and that loving God and others is all that counts while on Earth. They feel His overwhelming love encompassing their whole being. Since heaven is enormous, nobody tends to see the whole place in their three-minutes or three-hour adventure. But all seem to report something of interest.
Marvin J. Besteman, author of My Journey to Heaven, cautions readers that he was only privy to a tiny slice of the vast heavens: “It’s as if you were from Nepal or Congo or someplace, and you were dropped via helicopter into Estes Park, Colorado, and picked up by the same helicopter twenty minutes later. Your impression would be that America was one big mountain range with jagged snowy peaks because that’s what you happened to see during your limited time there.”
Many say the convincing proof of the reality of NDEs comes from the afterlife experiences of children, who, despite no preconceived notions about the qualities of the afterlife, have experiences remarkably consistent with those of adults.
If you plan to read any of the books listed below, do not read my blurbs about the books, which are spoilers in that they reveal the most intriguing highlights of the stories.
A final word of caution: The Catholic Church does not generally study or evaluate NDEs, and therefore has not offered an opinion as the validity of any of these stories. People of numerous religious affiliations tend to report having these experiences. The Church does not even make rulings on the visions of most saints, so it certainly is not in the habit of making rulings on the visions of regular people. In fact, some recipients of near-death experiences admit they were living unholy lives at the time of their celestial visits (as expected, they adjusted their lives upon returning).
It is especially important to stay away from near-death stories of individuals who dabble in New Age or occult practices, since these practices open the door for Satan and his followers to come right in and fabricate experiences in which individuals see and hear lies. Satan has been known to deceive many into believing that sin has no bearing on one's soul; that it is not necessary for a Christian to help carry the cross of Jesus; that no judgment awaits us; or that hell does not exist. If a purported NDE recipient came back believing to have learned any of the above, this would be a sure sign that the experience was one of deception.
Even people who received their experiences from God are likely to misunderstand or misinterpret what was seen, heard and felt in a world far beyond their comprehension. Therefore, all reports must be evaluated in light of the Church’s historical teachings. Naturally, if a person claims something about a vision which contradicts the Church, the vision must be considered mistaken or mistakenly interpreted.
Claire’s top picks? The stories of Marino Restrepo, Ned Dougherty, and Glorio Polo for the incredible depth of theological truths they were shown by God regarding the human condition, the intertwining of human and divine, the roots of sin, the character of God, and the status of the world.