Warning: If you haven’t seen the final episode of ABC’s Lost, then you might not want to read this commentary.
The final episode of ABC’s six-year series “Lost” reflects quite a bit of theologizing about heaven, much of it with Catholic resonance. It’s interesting to me that popular culture has elevated Catholicism as the most religious of religions.
The closing episode takes place in a church with a prominent statue of the Sacred Heart in the parking lot. There is a hint in the stained glass windows of the sacristy of the church that this Heaven is trans-denominational. Statues of the Buddha are next to ones of the Blessed Mother. But those symbols of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism all “fit” in the Catholic Church because our theology sees Catholicism as the fulfillment of different religions. When the protagonist, Jack Shepherd — son of Christian Shepherd — finally realizes he is dead and that this is Heaven, he follows his father into a church with a recognizably Catholic main altar. Keeping with the Catholic theme, there is one character, Benjamin Linus, who stays outside the church because he is “not ready” to join the others. Only denominations like Catholicism that believe in purgatory can comprehend this “saved-but-not-quite-yet” category.
The gist of the finale is that good people will be reunited in Heaven with those they loved in life. The last few installments with the sideways jump into a parallel universe had each of the characters re-encountering each other in different social circumstances that were considerably happier than the plane crash that was the setting for the show. Yet, despite enjoying relative happiness in these parallel situations, they once again met each other in even greater joy. Ironically, the less spectacular human situations are found in Heaven, while the mysterious and even mystical events on the island were cast as “real life.” Ricardus even called the island in real life to be Hell.
It is rewarding to see Heaven as a place where we can be reunited with family and friends at a maximum moment of full health and youth. It reminds me of what I was told by the Sisters of St. Joseph in my parochial school. For eight- and nine-year-olds, Heaven was a place of perpetual amusement parks, ice cream cones and no school. Think of the disappointment I suffered to learn later at the Jesuits’ St. Joe’s Prep that the “real” Heaven was quite different. In those pre-Conciliar days, we were guided by St. Thomas Aquinas, who had written that Heaven consisted of the Beatific Vision. That vision alone was enough to keep us eternally happy according to the Angelic Doctor because each of our appetites for the one, the true, the good and the beautiful would be satisfied by face-to-face vision of God. This was a true let down from the notion of appetite that included ice-cream.
The finale of “Lost” provided an adult twist on the amusement park and ice-cream notions of grammar school. Heaven consists of a relaxed encounter with all the significant people who helped us in life and who allowed us to help them. That is not incompatible with the Beatific Vision – in fact, in the final scene of the final episode the church’s doors are opened to an extremely bright light that floods the TV tube into absolute whiteness. This is about as good a symbol one can invent for the bloodlessly blinding Beatific Vision.
I found the departing message of “Lost” to be consonant to Catholic teaching wherein Heaven is about enjoying our human fellowship. It is relatively dissimilar from the image of Heaven found in the “Left Behind” series so popular among our Evangelical brothers and sisters where the joy of Heaven seems to consist of watching the suffering of liberal Democrats.
This finale of “Lost” recalls that for Catholics Heaven begins with the final Resurrection of the Body. The characters of the show had quite bodily experiences of hugging and kissing, of pain and physical discomfort. These elements are compatible only when the body is joined to the soul. It is an echo of how the resurrected Jesus asked his disciples if they had anything to eat (Luke: 24:41). So kudos to “Lost” for reminding us that Heaven is place where we should want to go.