“Ask a Priest: Is There Reincarnation?”

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Q: What is the Catholic Church’s stance/teaching on past lives and reincarnation? I’m a recent Catholic, although I’m 41. I saw an article today on Catholic Online that concerns me. – R.D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A. The short answer is, there is no reincarnation. The Catechism in No. 1013 says:

Death is the end of man’s earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny. When ‘the single course of our earthly life’ is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives: ‘It is appointed for men to die once.’ There is no ‘reincarnation’ after death.”

That article you cited, about a person who reported a death experience, is a different kind of thing. Perhaps God grants certain people the grace of a glimpse of the beyond. I say “glimpse” because if a soul really saw God, the soul would be so overwhelmed that it wouldn’t come back to this world.

There are, of course, precedents for coming-back-to-life experiences in the Gospel. Jesus raised people from the dead. But what they experienced before being brought back to life is a mystery.

Suffice it to say, though, these are not cases of reincarnation. Reincarnation holds that people die and then return to the world in some other form or other body. The back-from-death cases in the Gospels, in contrast, deal with continuity in the existence of individual persons.

The upshot: Make the most of your life. You only get one in this world, and then you go to Our Lord and give an account for how you lived it.

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