Several years ago I watched the movie The Five People You Meet in Heaven. If you haven’t seen it, consider this your spoiler alert. It’s based on Mitch Albom’s 2003 novel that follows the afterlife adventures of Eddie, who was killed in an attempt to save a girl at an amusement park.
In heaven, a confused Eddie meets five people who played roles at turning points in his life or in whose lives he played a role and didn’t know it. Eddie meets someone known simply as the "Blue Man" who, it turns out, died of a heart attack caused when Eddie, as a boy, wildly threw a ball into the middle of the road on which the man was driving, and it literally startled him to death. Eddie then meets his World War II Army captain who sacrificed himself for the platoon; then a young woman that helps Eddie forgive his father; then Eddie’s childless wife, Marguerite; and finally a girl that Eddie attempted to save during the war in the Philippines.
Because Eddie’s experience is more about reconciliation with events and people in his earthly life, the state that the movie portrays is more like purgatory than the beatific vision. Obviously, the movie does not pretend to be an accurate portrayal of heaven, but it falls short morally as well. There’s little talk of biblical principles, and God is mentioned only briefly.
Eddie seems to be something of a relativist, and the movie promotes the idea that things in life are random, and we need to accept that. The point of the movie is summed up in the response of one of the characters to Eddie: “You have peace . . . when you make it with yourself.”
Though the movie falls woefully short, it serves as a jumping-off point to explore the real people we will meet in heaven.
Be prepared to meet the first pope. He’s often said to be the heavenly gatekeeper, which is an informal reference to Jesus giving him the keys: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). It’s a longstanding tradition of the Church that martyrs such as Peter go immediately to heaven. While it doesn’t explicitly state this, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does allude to martyrdom as the premier act of faith:
Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude (CCC 2473).
You’ll meet them as well. We pray in our creed, “I believe in life everlasting. . . . I believe in the communion of saints.” Because heaven is the place of the Church Triumphant, you’ll meet every saint that ever lived. Ever.
Family and loved ones
The Bible is clear that we will meet friends, family. and other loved ones in heaven:
But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
This won’t be in the same way we meet on Earth, but it will be more intimate, because we will share in the full communion of Christ and the knowledge of the beatific vision. So have no fear for those you love—if they’re in heaven, you’ll meet them again.
Atheists and other nonbelievers
This one is unexpected but indisputable:
Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion. The imputability of this offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances (CCC 2125).
Of the many salvific doctrines of the Catholic Church, this is one our Protestant brothers and sisters dislike the most. Personally, I love it. It proves that there is no agenda or exclusivity as to whom God chooses to bring into his heavenly kingdom. We don’t hold the deed and property right.
This subject is dense, but if you’d like to read more, please see this excellent article from Tim Staples.
Yup. They’re real, and they have a solemn duty. The Catechism says,
From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. . . . Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God (CCC 336).
The young St. Gonzaga wrote that our guardian angels will accompany us immediately to the judgment, and, if we’re sent to purgatory, our guardian angel will visit and console us. Thomas Aquinas confirms:
As guardians are appointed for men who have to pass by an unsafe road, so an angel guardian is assigned to each man as long as he is a wayfarer. When, however, he arrives at the end of life he no longer has a guardian angel; but in the kingdom he will have an angel to reign with him, in hell a demon to punish him (Summa Theologiae, Part 1, Question 113, Article 4).
Bonus: Jesus and Mary
Of course! She was assumed into heaven. It’s a belief of Roman Catholics, Eastern Catholics, Oriental Orthodox, and Anglicans (see Munificentissimus Deus by Pius XII). And Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19).
Photo: The Blue Man (Jeff Daniels) speaks with Eddie (Jon Voight) in the movie The Five People You Meet in Heaven.