Question

Father Angelo, it is the first time I am writing to you, even if I have been following your website for a while.

My name is Manuele, I am from Prato (Italy).

I have a question regarding  near-death experiences.

I consider myself a faithful person, nevertheless, the story of a boy called Michael Mandolfo left me thoroughly perplexed. 

This boy, from Milan, at the age of fourteen remained underwater for more than forty minutes before being transported back to the surface. He suffered cardiac arrest and was declared practically dead. He was taken to hospital and here, thanks to cardiopulmonary resuscitation, he was brought back to life with a full recovery of his mental faculties. Unfortunately, he lost a leg due to the accident. He says he does not remember anything about his near-death experience, only darkness and boredom, as if he fell asleep and then woke up. His detailed story can be found on the Internet.

After this experience, Michael affirms that there is no afterlife as we imagine it, since  he only fell asleep. How is this possible?

Yet, other people who spent even just a couple of  minutes in a state of apparent death claim that they saw a tunnel, then a light, and sometimes their deceased relatives. I personally know a person who experienced all of these  circumstances.

How is it possible that Michael did not see anything instead? Maybe the reason is that his soul remained anchored to his body and never detached during the near-death experience?

Why did God not allow this boy to see something from the other world too? Overall, near-death experience should be almost the same for everyone.

Now Michael, as he says, has his own vision of death. He does not believe in Heaven or Hell, he believes instead he only experienced a long sleep.

Perhaps it is a trick from the human brain, and the near-death experiences where people have visions of tunnels, family members deceased, etc., are merely the result of a mental illusion?

Reading about this story left me with many doubts and questions about the near-death experiences, and about the possibility of life in the afterlife.

Please, Father, help me to clarify my concerns.

Thank you a lot,

Manuel


Priest’s answer

Dear Manuel,

1. The “near-death” expression is correct, but not in the meaning in which it is commonly understood.

In fact, by near-death some people mean the space that would go between the apparent death of a person (the criterion is usually that of cessation of the heartbeat) and the definitive death.

The testimonies you wrote about relate to this period of time.

2. The near-death diction is exact instead because it applies to a person still alive, not a dead one.

In fact, there is no turning back from death except for a miraculous resurrection or universal judgment.

3. But let’s go back to the subject of your email.

What all those people claim they saw is not the afterlife.

The experiences of light, of gentleness, and even of well-being that some people lived and then witnessed could be the result of various factors that affect human’s brain.

4. We are absolutely certain of one thing: God’s judgment occurs at the moment of death of the individual.

God himself told us this through his divine revelation.

For example, He told us about the eternal destiny of some people, which became effective immediately after their death.Thus, about the rich Epulon and the poor Lazarus. As soon as the rich man dies, he immediately finds himself in hell. About Lazarus, we read that the Angels came and took him into Abraham’s bosom.

Christ, from the cross, said to the Penitent Thief: “”Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43).

5. What happens after a person dies?

Immediately after death, the person undergoes the Particular judgement.

St. Paul reminds us that: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.”” (2 Cor 5:10).

6. The Church has clarified its doctrine also on the basis of the biblical references that I have given you.

We find it expressed ultimately in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states:

“Death puts an end to human life as the time opens to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. The New Testament speaks of judgement primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul —a destiny which can be different for some and for others” (CCC 1021).

7. As you may have noticed, the Catechism speaks of immediate, therefore instantaneous, retribution.

There is no interlude. Above all, there is no possibility to go back.

Pope Benedict XII (fourteenth century) in the Constitution Benedictus Deus said that “the souls of those who die in mortal sin today, immediately (mox) after death descend into hell where they are tormented with infernal torment” (DS 1021).

8. For this reason, the Catechism of the Catholic Church also says: “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgement that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven —through a purification or immediately, —or immediate and everlasting damnation.”. (CCC 1022).

9. For sure, neither Michael nor all the other people who lived similar experiences have ever seen the afterlife.

In none of them has death occurred, that is, the separation of the soul from the body.

All that they have seen is part of the near-death experience in its exact definition given above.

10. To conclude, I would like to present you the words that a brilliant theologian, Giorgio Gozzelino, wrote about the so-called near-death experiences:

“The experiences of reversible death resuscitation, called N.D.E. (“Near Death Experiences”), enter into the phenomena of a parapsychological nature considered capable of referring to a life beyond death.

These are the reports of numerous people clinically deceased (medically dead) and then resuscitated.

In their stories some constants return: exit of the ego from the body, in a condition devoid of gravity; vision, as from above, of the facts that follow one’s own death; concentrated re-proposal, combined with feelings of guilt, of the salient events of life, as for a sort of playback of one’s own existence; perception of a threshold of detachment between earthly life and another form of life, with feelings of intense attraction for the latter, sometimes accentuated by the encounter with dear departed people or by the appearance of figures of light; positive incidence of such perceptions on the life of the relatives.

The general sensation is that these subjects have as a glance on the afterlife, or at least have seen “the facade of that world into which this time they could not enter”; yes to be confirmed, to say it with the well-known psychiatrist E. Kubler-Ross, “what we have been taught for two thousand years: there is a life beyond death””. (While awaiting blessed hope, pp. 17-18).

11. The judgment of G. Gozzelino is as follows: “If the stories of N. D. E. have an undoubted charge of suggestion, they cannot aspire to the dignity of evidence.

Such phenomena also occur in other particular psychic states, e.g., in drug-induced hallucinations; so that it can be explained as a kind of extreme emergency inspiration of the dying brain: the well-known last blaze of fire before it is finally extinguished.

And then it should be noted that none of the subjects who report such experiences are really dead; although they have approached the threshold of death, they have not crossed it, so their testimony lends itself to illuminate the last phase of life, dispelling the fear of the anguished moods often feared for those moments, but it does not serve to guarantee an afterlife of death” (Ib,. p.20).

With the hope of having brought clarity through the divine light, I wish you that, one day, you will cross the threshold of death to enter directly (mox) into Heaven.

For this, I pray for you and I bless you.

Father Angel

original post is available in Italian