Journey’s End, the Truth about Life after Death
In late Spring I heard an exceptional interview with the retired newsreader, Una O’Hagan. It is a very moving piece of radio. Una was interviewed by Ryan Tubridy on his radio show. (https://www.rte.ie/radio/radio1/clips/22082586/ ) It’s a frank, honest and emotional interview about life, suffering, loss, bereavement, death, judgement, faith, light, heaven and hope. The interview arose on foot of the publication of her recently deceased husband’s final book that he worked on while he had received a terminal diagnosis. Having heard the fine interview I bought the book with great anticipation. Journey’s End, the Truth about Life after Death certainly lived up to the expectations.
Many would have known Una O’Hagan from her news reading days. Not as many might have known her husband Colm Keane who worked as a producer with RTÉ. He was passionate about radio. “The best pictures are painted on radio” he used to say. Seán, the only child of Una and Colm was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 17 and died two years later. It was a shattering experience for his broken-hearted parents.
Colm gradually moved away from radio into the area of writing books. Because of his soul searching experience, his works began to deal more and more with faith issues. His books and writing style became very popular and he produced many best-selling religious books. Una, joined him as co-author on a number of his final works. Colm produced over 30 books during the course of his writing career. I had previously read his best sellers on St. Pio of Petraclina (Padre Pio), St. Therese of Lisieux (The Little Flower) and St. Brigid and found them excellent.
Journey’s End is built around the idea expressed by Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian Poet and Nobel Prize winner, 1861-1941 as he says “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” In a broad ranging and thoroughly well researched book he looks at many traditions, theories, ideas about death and life hereafter. He surveys the ideas of the various religious traditions, philosophies, scientific theories and detailed interviews with several people who had near death experiences.
One might say that the topic of death and the afterlife might be a thad morbid as light Summer reading, but I found the book fascinating. As a priest, so much of the work we do is around death and bereavement and sharing the consolation of the hope offered by the message of Jesus Christ to those in our pastoral care. Having lost my own mother, RIP in recent months and the experience of that I had all the more interest.
We are familiar with the dictum reminding us of the inevitability of death and taxes. It is often attributed it to Henry Ford. However, a little research brings it back to Benjamin Franklin and even earlier to 1726 to Daniel Defoe in his work The Political History of the Devil. As Una O’Hagan says in her interview with Tubridy, despite it’s inevitability and the fact that we do funeral rituals reasonably well in Ireland we rarely have a serious discussion about the reality of after-life.
In a very learned way, yet with a lucid, readable and engaging style Keane takes us through the main issues, our understanding of heaven, hell, children in heaven, animals in heaven, reincarnation, purgatory and other associated issues.
He builds his thesis of God being a God of love, but taking into account opinions and ideas to the contrary, most noteworthy the famous quotation from Richard Dawkins, reflecting on his summation of the God of the Old Testament in his work The God Delusion where he describes God as “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
I really enjoyed his recounting of many stories and anecdotes of various traditions, biblical, secular, scientific and other. I particularly enjoyed his references to the 800 year old image above the doorway of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris presenting a depiction of the balance of justice, the saved and the damned in the final judgement. He whets our appetite for great highlights or classics of our tradition; Dante’s Inferno, Michelangelo’s Last Judgement, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, humerous Mark Twain anecdotes as well as the stories of the Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and other traditions.
His main message is around what he calls The Book of Life with the challenge to be accountable for the good and the bad that we do. From his exhaustive research and interviews the journey to the next life is a journey into light and as Una clarifies in her interview that light is a place of love and joy and understanding, a place that we can look forward to when our time comes.
Fintan Monahan, Bishop of Killaloe
Clare Champion Article 22nd of July 2022