I received a comment from Esa, a Muslim man, who wrote that Muslims believe that Paradise is not only for Muslims but for everyone who is faithful, good-hearted and a helper to the people. He asked what I think about it. Esa, here are my thoughts …
I absolute agree with you that those who are faithful, good-hearted, and a helper to the people are in Paradise. Being a lifelong student of theology, I can’t help explain a little bit about how the Church affirms and teaches this belief about who we might find in heaven.
The Christian tradition talks about Paradise or heaven as the dwelling place of God, the angels, and those who are blessed. It also means the final fulfillment of human existence. We live in hope that we will be fully united with God and experience the fullness of the love that Jesus exhibited and call us to. As a Catholic Church, we’ve grown in our understanding of what it means for all people (including those “outside the Church”) to be saved through the Church and live with God in heaven. We believe that God is present in grace to every human being. All people can find salvation through the Church regardless of their religious tradition because God’s grace is given to all people. The Second Vatican Council talked about this when teaching about how Christians are “linked with the Paschal Mystery and patterned on the dying Christ.” (Constitution on the Church in the Modern World #22) The Council went on to say that “All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men [sic] of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.”
A final thought from Dante’s Paradisio:
Within its depths I saw gathered together,
Bound by love into a single volume,
Leaves that lie scattered through the universe.
(Paradisio XXXIII, 85-87)
Esa, I would love to hear more about the Muslim perspective of Paradise. And to all readers, what is your understanding of Paradise or heaven or the afterlife?