Will We Know Our Loved Ones in Heaven?

Is Family Forever?

Priest and Family at Father's Grave
Ken Chernus/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Someone once approached me with an interesting question regarding the afterlife:

"In speaking with my husband on the subject of life after death, he states he was taught that we do not remember the people we lived with or knew in this world—that we make a fresh start in the next. I do not remember this teaching (sleeping during class?), nor do I believe that I will not see/remember relatives and friends I knew here on earth.

This is contrary to my common sense. Is this really a Catholic teaching? Personally, I believe our friends and families are waiting to welcome us into our new life."

Misconceptions on Marriage and the Resurrection

This is a very interesting question because it highlights certain misconceptions on both sides. The husband's belief is a common one, and it usually stems from a misunderstanding of Christ's teaching that, in the resurrection, we will neither marry nor be given in marriage (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25), but will be like angels in Heaven.

A Clean Slate? Not So Fast

That does not mean, however, that we enter Heaven with a "clean slate." We will still be the people that we were on earth, just purified of all of our sins and enjoying forever the beatific vision (the vision of God). We will retain our memories of our life. None of us are truly "individuals" here on earth. Our family and friends are an important part of who we are as people, and we remain in a relationship in Heaven to all of those whom we knew throughout our lives.

As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes in its entry on Heaven, the blessed souls in Heaven "delight greatly in the company of Christ, the angels, and the saints, and in the reunion with so many who were dear to them on earth."

The Communion of Saints

The Church's teaching on the communion of saints make this clear.

The saints in Heaven; the suffering souls in Purgatory; and those of us still here on earth all know each other as persons, not as nameless, faceless individuals. If we were to make a "fresh start" in Heaven, our personal relationship with, for instance, Mary, the Mother of God, would be impossible. We pray for our relatives who have died and are suffering in Purgatory in the full assurance that, once they have entered Heaven, they will intercede for us as well before the Throne of God.

Heaven Is More Than a New Earth

However, none of this implies that life in Heaven is simply another version of life on earth, and this is where both the husband and the wife may share a misconception. His belief in a "fresh start" seems to imply that we begin again in creating new relationships, while her belief that "our friends and families are waiting to welcome us into our new life," while not wrong per se, may suggest that she thinks that our relationships will continue to grow and change and that we will live as families in Heaven in some way analogous to how we live as families on earth.

But in Heaven, our focus is not on other people, but on God. Yes, we continue to know each other, but now we know each other most completely in our mutual vision of God.

Absorbed in the beatific vision, we are still the people we were on earth, and so we have added joy in knowing that those we loved share that vision with us.

And, of course, in our desire that others be able to share in the beatific vision, we will continue to intercede for those whom we knew who are still struggling in Purgatory and on earth.

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