Will We Know Our Loved Ones in Heaven?

The Communion of Saints

In last week’s article, A Match Made in Heaven, I remembered a promise made to my cousin.  This article fulfills the promise – a letter to his new bride.

Dear Erin,

First of all, I welcome you to our family!  You made such a lovely bride and the wedding was so beautiful. It was a day that I will not forget and I thank you for having invited me to be a part of it. If you have read part one of this article, you already know that I have been feeling guilty because I promised Jack quite a while ago that I would write you a letter.  It may seem strange that I am writing to you using such a public forum.  However, I think you’ll understand once you continue to read.  It has been my experience that you are not the only one who has been catechized poorly regarding the Communion of Saints and our relationship to our loved ones in Heaven.

Jack informed me that you were taught as a youngster that when we arrive in Heaven, we will not know or recognize our loved ones whom we were acquainted with on earth.  This means that spouses will no longer be united, children will not be reunited with deceased parents, and dearly loved grandparents may only be figures in our distant memory – if that!  I notice that this strange teaching seems to resurface every once-in-awhile as I continue to catechize students over the years.  It is a very sad and hopeless teaching, which, I assure you, has nothing to do with the promise of Christ.  As I mentioned in the previous article, I believe it was erroneously derived from our Lord’s words in Scripture, “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.” (Mt. 2:22.)  However, while marriage as an institution is not necessary in the next life, the love of marriage is taken up and transcended – even perfected, as we experience the beatific vision together.

I was also taught this mistaken notion by a religion teacher in my grade school years.  Fortunately, I did not take it to heart, especially since other good teachers easily corrected my concerns.  I also knew that in the Bible, there were instances of people who had known each other on earth meeting again in the afterlife.  For example, let us look at the famous story of Lazarus the Beggar in Luke 19:19-31.  The rich man, who had callously ignored Lazarus during his life, was now asking for a bit of relief from Lazarus, who he could see was standing next to Abraham.  This relief was refused to him because he had ignored the needs of Lazarus during his life on earth. In Revelation 6:9-11 the martyrs stand together and ask Jesus how long it will be before their cruel deaths are avenged.  One is reminded of the many early Christians who were martyred together in the Roman coliseum. Now they stand together before the throne of God.  St. Paul also brings out the importance of the “togetherness” or Communion of the Saints in the following passage:

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord, himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words.  (1 Thess. 4:13-18)

In Matthew 8:11, Jesus promised, “Many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” There is a sense of a family gathering in these words.  Each of us belongs to this great family in which Christ is the Head.  In Christ, there is no division or separation.  Galatians 3:28 assures us of this union, saying:  “…for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Let us also remember, that in Revelation 2:6, Jesus tells us,  “Behold, I make all things new.” These things include our relationships to one another.  Our earthly relationships are only shadows of the love and communion which awaits us in Heaven.

As Catholics, we not only look to scripture for revealed truth, we also look to tradition.  The Liturgy is an essential element of the holy and living tradition of the Church.  There is a Latin expression, Lex orandi, lex credendi, which literally means “the law of prayer is the law of belief.”  In other words, we know what the Church believes by how she prays, especially during Mass.  As a matter-of-fact, the opening prayer for the funeral Mass of a religious Sister points to the fact that she will be joining her deceased Sisters for all eternity:

All powerful God,
We pray for our Sister N.
Who responded to the call of Christ
And pursued wholeheartedly the ways of perfect love.
Grant that she may rejoice
On that day when your glory will be revealed
And in the company of all her brothers and sisters
Share forever the happiness of your Kingdom.

Another opening prayer for deceased parents reflects the same promise:

Lord God, who commanded us to honor father and mother,
Look kindly upon your servants N. and N.
Have mercy on them
And let us see them again in eternal light.

As the final commendation during the funeral Mass, the priest reminds us to find consolation in our hope that we will one day see our deceased loved one again.  For example, one prayer he might offer is:

Before we go our separate ways, let us take leave of our brother/sister. May our farewell express our affection for him/her; may it ease our sadness and strengthen our hope. One day we shall joyfully greet him/her again when the love of Christ, which conquers all things, destroys death itself.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not specifically state that we will meet our loved ones again in the next life (at least I can’t find it anywhere!)  However, there are some allusions to it.  For example, in CCC ¶1024, the Catechism says, “Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” Erin, I ask you to take a few moments to recall your dear grandmother to memory.  Now look into your heart.  What is your deepest longing at this moment? Surely it is to meet her once again one day! Heaven holds that promise for you.  Why else would God have placed this holy longing in your heart?  Many well meaning people have taught that we won’t know or recognize our loved ones in Heaven because, “God is enough!”  I don’t think any true Christian would disagree that God is enough for all of us.  And yet, in God we find our loved ones.  He places the holy desires for eternal communion inside our hearts and he will not forsake us.  Doesn’t Jesus tell us in Mark 12:27, “He is not a God of the dead, but of the living?” The God of life put this desire in you and will see it realized. All we are asked to do is to trust him and be faithful to him.  The Catechism states in CCC ¶1026:  “Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ.” It did not say “some.” It says “all.”  “All” includes your loved ones who have died in him.  In CCC ¶1029, this relationship is asserted:  “In the glory of heaven the blessed continue joyfully to fulfill God’s will in relation to other men and to all creation.”

So far we have looked to three sources to support our hope that we shall meet our loved ones again one day in Heaven:  Scripture, Liturgy, and the Catechism. Another source rich in wisdom is found in the lives of the saints.  Many saints held firm to the belief that they would one day meet their loved ones in Heaven, or come to get them upon their deaths and bring them into Heaven.  For instance, on her death bed, St. Thérèse of Lisieux promised her Sisters:  “I’ll still be even more with you than I was before; I’ll not leave you.  I will watch over Uncle and Aunt, over my little Lèonie, over all of you.  When they are ready to enter heaven, I’ll go very quickly to meet them.” [1] Padre Pio, on his death bed is reported to have whispered, “I see two mothers!” [2] It is believed he was referring to his own biological mother and, of course, to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Finally, it is in the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of us all that we find the most obvious hope for meeting our loved ones in the next life.  In John, chapter 19, Jesus promised John to Mary and Mary to John as he hung overhead upon the Cross.  As Catholics, we understand that in doing this, Jesus offered his mother as his very last and dearest possession on this earth, not only to John, his beloved-disciple, but to each of us.  How many times a day do the words “Pray for us now and at the hour of our death” ascend to our heavenly mother’s ears?  She keeps each of these prayers in her heart, waiting for the day when she can come and take us to the throne of her Divine Son.  Not only does she continue to be the Mother of the Son of God, but she continues to be our mother in Heaven.  The relationship that began on earth continues and is perfected in the life to come.  If this is true for our relationship with Mary, surely it is true for our relationships with our earthly mothers … and grandmothers!

I have only tapped into a few of the countless sources which the Church has in her treasury to help give you consolation and peace regarding our future together in Heaven.  However, Erin, I cannot end this letter without reminding you of the innumerable stories told by people even today who lie on their death beds, sharing with us their experience of dying. How many hospice workers can attest to the fact that many people claim to have seen or even spoken with their loved ones as they lay dying! [3] For some, it is easy to “write off” these experiences as drug-induced fantasies or as hallucinations caused by the brain “shutting down.”  However, when these experiences bring great peace and joy to agitated souls, I believe they point to the presence of some sort of heavenly intervention.  As my own mother lay dying nearly two years ago, she smiled and exclaimed that she could see her brother “up there!”  I have no doubt that she did.

So, Erin, I hope these references can help settle your heart and bring you peace, knowing your dear grandmother not

Jack and Erin at their Nuptial Mass

only waits for you to join her one day for all eternity in Heaven, but that she is near to you now, helping lead you and your new family on your Christian journey. Have you ever felt her presence with you since she has died? I even suspect that she watched you more closely than ever and with great joy as you exchanged your vows with Jack during your wedding a few weeks ago. Truly, she had the “best seat in the house!”  Pray to her, especially during your times of trial, and trust that she will help you and your family so that you will all be united again in Heaven.  May she intercede for us with all the saints in order that we one day may join the great multitude before the throne of God, crying out, “Alleluia! Salvation, glory, and might belong to our God!” (Rev. 19:1)

Lovingly in Christ,

Sr. Marie Morgan, OSF


[1] From St. Therese of Lisieux:  Her Last Conversations translated by John Clark, OCD. ICS Publications.  Washington D.C., 1977. (pp. 275-276)

[2] From Padre Pio:  The True Story by C. Bernard Ruffin.  Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Co., Huntington, IN, 1991.

[3] Might I suggest the book, Glimpses of Heaven:  True Stories of Hope and Peace at the End of Life’s Journey by Trudy Harris, RN?  There are many stories of dying patients who seem to experience the presence of deceased loved-ones coming to help them when they are dying. It is a wonderful book.

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About the Author

Sister Marie Morgan, OSF is a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Mishawaka, Indiana (www.ssfpa.org). She has taught for nine years; two of these in elementary school and seven in high school. After receiving a B.A. in General Studies with an emphasis in secondary education at Indiana University, Sister Marie attended the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the “Angelicum”) in Rome, Italy where she received a B.A. in Theology and an M.A. in Spiritual Theology. She currently resides in Mishawaka, Indiana where she teaches Theology and serves as part-time pastoral counselor at Marian High School.

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16 Comments

  1. Magnificent, Sister! What wise and reassuring words. Your cousin’s bride will agree that the wait for this letter was well worth it.

    Deacon Mike

  2. Sister Marie,

    I love this article! Your writing is beautiful, personal and instructive. Thank you for sharing your gifts with our readers.

    In Christ,

    Randy Hain

  3. Thank you Sister for this article. This is something I had been struggling with for some time based on what I was taught going through RCIA. I’m thrilled to hear that there is a counter argument. The thought that I would not be close to or even care about being close to my wife and family has been weighing heavily on my mind for some time.

    God Bless you!

    Jason W.

  4. jwinch2: I think we can safely say, especially after looking at the Liturgical texts of the Church, this is just not a counter argument. This is the truth as taught by the Church.
    So happy resurrection thoughts and graces this Easter!
    Sr. Marie

  5. I greatly appreciate this article. My husband died in Afghanistan four months ago, and much of the “Catholic teaching” that I have come across focused on “there is no marriage in heaven” comment. Yet, if we are to believe that God made Adam and Eve husband and wife in the beginning, then following the “you wont be conscious of anyone other than God in heaven” logic, He would have planned to end their marriage at some point (in a way other than death) in order to bring them to the salvation that Christ’s death restored to us. That is to say that love for one another is temporary and has no meaning. That is also to say that the sorrow we feel at one’s death is meaningless.

    I came across an audio lecture in which the priest said that there is no marriage in Heaven because there is no need to procreate, then making the comment “I’ve been celibate all my life, it’s not that bad” – as a widow/widower simply misses the sex. I trust he did not really intend that meaning, but that is what it is. The fact that we are encouraged to pray to the saints is what consoled me in the fact that the “dead” are aware of us and are personally attentive to us. It seems unlikely that the love/concern the saints have for us ends once our earthly life ends.

    I’m sorry for the rambling – it’s an important topic to me.
    Thank you again for the article.

  6. Ann,

    I am so sorry for your loss. Death on earth is but a passing, not an end. It is surely painful for those left behind. The vocation of man and wife is to lead one another to Heaven. It is inconceivable to me that such an affection deriving from so holy a purpose would end after this life. I will pray for both you and your husband. May the good God grant you both his peace.

    Deacon Mike

  7. anns82: My heart is especially with you this night – Holy Thursday. I just returned from a deeply moving Tenebrae service at Sacred Heart Basilica at Notre Dame University. At the end of the liturgy, the lights are turned off in the Church and a single candle is marched down the aisle. The congregation is left holding their breath waiting. Then, a loud rumbling sound (called the “Strepitus”) begins to thunder throughout the Church as every one present slams his/her hymnal into the pew simulating the earthquake which happened upon the death of our Lord on the Cross. Suddenly in the moment, I was overwhelmed by the memory of my mother’s death which, as I mentioned in the article above, happened nearly two years ago. The grief seemed to crash around me like the sound. The darkness was palpable and felt hauntingly similar to the sickening darkness I had experienced during the last days of her life and those first weeks after her death. Grief seems to have this habit of “kicking us in the pants” when we least expect it – seemingly as if it has come out of nowhere. This was one of those moments. I wanted to crawl under the pew, but instead I fumbled in the dark looking for a wadded hanky while I prayed the lights would not turn back on for at least another five minutes!

    Then it hit me. The darkness of my grief was first experienced by my Lord this very night nearly 2,000 years ago. He carried it to the Cross and transformed it into joy at His resurrection. Right now, four months after the death of your beloved husband, I’m sure you can relate to this “darkness.” Let the Lord take you by the hand and lead you through it. Your spiritual intuition is correct – your dear husband is aware, attentive and somehow present to you. You can trust this. I imagine he is helping the Lord prepare your mansion for the great day when you too, will be called home to join him once again. Don’t let the darkness smother you by losing hope in this precious understanding you have been given.

    Let us pray for one another this week and open our arms wide to receive our Risen Lord so very soon.

    God bless and continue to comfort and guide you.
    Sr. Marie, OSF

    PS. I praise and bless God for giving us such fine men to protect our country. May his honor never fade from our memories.

  8. I was taught that you would not know your loved ones in heaven, and I have told my husband several times that it makes me very sad to think about this. It is so reassuring to know that this is false teaching.

  9. I was doing a search on the subject after losing my Dad a couple of weeks ago and came across this article, and am very thankful for it. As a Catholic growing up I always believed we would see our loved ones in heaven and be with them and God, but then I saw something in a TV show about 15 years ago and then also read several articles about our loves ones not knowing us anymore (here on earth or in heaven) and that we would not know them in heaven. My heart sank and it has troubled me for a long time — especially when my mother died 9 years ago, and most recently my father (do they forget us in heaven?). This thought has plagued my heart for many years — and I am so very thankful for this article that states that what I originally believed is the truth. There has been so much doubt and heartache as a result of what I had heard and read. And the thought that my husband and I would die and then never know each other in heaven has also haunted me over the years — and made the whole death process seem a hundred times scarier and “dreadful”. May the love we feel for each other (and I’m not talking the “physical” love) go on from this life to the next and may we all be together with God someday. Anyway, over a year late, but thank you!

  10. Great article. The verse of Lazarus, and the rich man is Luke 16:19-31. You have 19:19-31. Small error. Nonetheless, your article is amazing. Thank you. May God bless you.

  11. I lost my Dad just over a yr ago to Lung Cancer the pain has been terrible as we all know.

    Just me and my Mum, in our home now.

    I have had troubled thoughts about seeing my Dad, again like will he be reencarnated and will not be there when our time comes to leave the earth.

  12. Sr marie, Thank you so much for this article. My mum died last August and it really came home to me how many of the people I have loved and nearly all the people who loved me and formed me as a child have died now. I have always had a trust that I would see them again but I know some Christians don’t believe we will and it has troubled me. I too am sometimes simply overwhelmed by sadness at my mum’s death when I am not expecting it. And it comforts me to know that Jesus understands grief and most of all that we will be reunited. God bless you.

  13. Sister, very nice article. My wife passed away 3 months ago and I surely miss her. I have been struggling with this question and I am sure we will meet in heaven again as her departure left our relationship incomplete. I do believe the Lord knew I would be concerned about this and comforted me when I got a priest in the hospital to give me wife the last rites. He said he had a surprise for us, and after giving her the last rites, he proceeded to have us renew our wedding vows. At the end he mentioned our being reunited again. That was very powerful to me.
    When Christ mentioned that we would not be married in heaven, The pharisees (or whomever) were trying to trick Jesus by presenting him with the dilemma of a person having more than one spouse and whom would this person be married to. They should have known you can’t trick the Lord. Our Lord did not join me and my wife for 43 years just to have it end with both of us shedding tears as she left this world. We will meet again and share a more perfect love

  14. Thanks, Jack. What a beautiful tribute to you and your wife. That was a very special priest you had there. God is so good! We also have the mystery of the Communion of Saints which allows us to pray to our loved ones and ask their intercession and help when they pass on before us. My own mother who died in 2009 gets an earful of requests from me, I’ll tell you! :) I know she is there helping me out – along with other deceased loved ones. The relationship is there…but it is transformed. May God continue to bless you through the love you shared with your dear wife. You are in my prayers…

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