Interview on my book “Dying to Live”

Dying to Live - Reflections on Life After Death

I thought you might be interested to read this interview with me on my book Dying to Live – Reflections on Life After Deathwhich was published earlier this year and is selling very well. By the way, I am now writing a sequel to it, with the idea of helping the reader to prepare well for the judgment we will face when we die. At present, I envisage the title being The Final Exam. I hope to finish it by the end of the year and I ask your prayers that I may write something useful.

“Dying to Live: Reflections on Life After Death”

Fr John Flader’s new book on the afterlife is dedicated to an inspiring young woman who passed away on the very day he finished writing it.

In October 2016, Fr John Flader was told that Ellie, a 15-year old girl who attended the school where he is chaplain, had been diagnosed with a very aggressive tumour in the brain stem. With this tumour, which was inoperable and incurable, she was given nine months to live at best. But amazingly Ellie lived for over five more years, during which Fr Flader accompanied her as she journeyed towards death.

“At first she went through various stages of fear, of anger and who knows what else. But through the help of her mother…she accepted that this was the will of God,” says Fr Flader. “And in the end, she was really looking forward to dying.”

In her last weeks, Ellie’s only form of communication was her eyes, moving them up and down to say “yes”. Some hours before she passed, her mother told her that Our Lady was coming to take her to heaven, and she added: “I bet you can’t wait”. “Ellie’s eyes went up and down in the most emphatic way!” said Fr Flader. “It was a beautiful death of somebody who was really looking forward to it. Let us all pray that we can look forward to it too when the time comes and not be afraid.”

Ellie passed away in early 2022, on the very day that Fr Flader finished writing his book Dying to Live: Reflections on Life after Death. Hence the book is dedicated to her. Death might seem an interesting, if somewhat frightening, subject matter for a book, but for Fr Flader, death is less about dying and more about living.

“When all is said and done, we’re all going to die,” says Fr Flader. “That applies to everybody. But what happens after that is the big question. Many don’t believe in life after death, or they wonder if there just might be something on the other side. This book is for them. It leads the reader gently and logically along a path of inquiry into this vital question, arguing from reason and experience.”

“We can all have our opinions, but what awaits us after death does not depend on what we think is going to happen. There is reality, and this book shows that the reality is eminently positive, and it fills us with hope.”

Why a book on death?

“This book was not my idea,” says Fr Flader. It came about as a suggestion from a friend, and a valuable suggestion, he thought, since most people will wonder in their lifetime about the possibility of life after death.

With Covid lockdowns in place in Sydney, Australia, Fr Flader was able to write the book in record time. He kept the book short (considering that people reading it might be sick or nearing the end of their lives) as well as light in tone, with short chapters. The first half of the book is apologetics – arguing from reason to show that there is life after death – followed by the Catholic view on the afterlife: death itself, judgment, heaven, purgatory and hell. As for authorship, he intentionally went by John Flader rather than Fr. John Flader, so as not to scare away any readers who might not want to read a book written by a priest.

Fr Flader spoke about how the notion of an afterlife is intrinsically linked to belief in God. “You put the two together always,” says Fr Flader. “And if there’s no God, then we have to ask the question, ‘How did the universe begin?’”

“The chapter on the existence of God argues from scientific evidence, beginning with the origin of the universe. How did it begin? Scientists are now convinced that before this universe, before the big bang 13.8 billion years ago, there was nothing. And now there’s something – lots of it; hundreds of billions of galaxies of it. How did that happen? It seems clear that there has to be a God.”

And “How did life begin 3.5 billion years ago – life? Just the complexity of the simplest single-cell organism, the complexity of DNA, and other arguments from science show that there has to be a God. Even a non-believer like Sir Frederick Hoyle realised that life could not have arisen by the chance collision of molecules, and that there had to be a creator.

“And God made human beings with a spiritual soul. We know this from the very fact that we can think about God, that we can think about life after death. Animals can’t do this. The universe is not just composed of matter. There are human beings, and angels for that matter, with spirit. Where did spirit come from? It had to come from some other spiritual being and this could only be God. And it’s only because we are spiritual that there is life after death.”

Near-death experiences

But logic and scientific thought aren’t the only convincing parts of this book. Perhaps one of the most fascinating chapters is the one on near-death experiences. Fr Flader recounts multiple real-life stories of people who, generally in some sort of medical emergency that saw them clinically dead, experienced their soul separate from their body. They were able to observe what was happening to their physical body; or they proceeded to have an experience of heaven or hell.

While cynics would say that these stories aren’t believable, Fr Flader challenges them to look up the sources quoted in the book and hear these people tell their stories. “It is so genuine… When you look at some of these accounts of near-death experiences on the net, listen to what these people have to say, see how the near-death experience has changed their life for the better (which is invariably the case) – then you can’t help being convinced.”

“The near-death experiences point to the reality of what happens in life after death. And it happens to coincide perfectly with the Christian, and better, Catholic doctrine on those realities. There is the separation of the soul. There is a judgment… There’s heaven, with all its beauty – just overwhelming joy. There is purgatory… And there’s hell. A number of people, including one whom I know here in Sydney, have experienced being judged as deserving of hell… So there’s compelling evidence for life after death.”

So why does God allow these near-death experiences? “I think God allows it… so that these people, some of whom might not have been saved, will be saved,” says Fr Flader. “And all of them change their life for the better and they can talk about it to other people… The books they write and the talks they give, the organisations they form, help others to believe in life after death… I think God allows it so that they, first of all, will change their lives… and in turn they will be able to help many other people change their lives.”

As for those who go through a near-death experience, does it impact their freedom in terms of belief in God? “I would like to put it in a way that perhaps you weren’t expecting,” says Fr Flader, “but I think a person who has had a near-death experience is more free than the rest of us to live their life in a good way. Because if we could only see God, if everybody had a near-death experience, we’d realise there is a heaven and God is a God of love… Then I think more people would live their lives in a different way and get to heaven. They are more free to live out the purpose of their existence.”

Fear of death 

Although many believe in the existence of heaven, they can still fear death. Fr Flader says that this is quite a natural sentiment. “I think many believers…have a certain apprehension because they think: when I die, I’m going to close my eyes, and my soul is going to leave my body. Am I going to be conscious as I go through the stages of the judgment and the tunnel – if there’s a tunnel – and experience heaven, or maybe will I go to purgatory…?”

“I suspect that as the average person nears death, they might become somewhat apprehensive and say, ‘Is this all for real?’ But we should not be scared of death. We can’t be scared of heaven. We can’t be scared even of purgatory, because the souls there are so happy, even though they also suffer. But I think that the uncertainty of what happens might lead to a certain degree – not necessarily of fear – but of apprehension and uncertainty. So this book hopefully can put people’s fears at rest and fill them more with hope. But I dare say, as so many have said, that when all is said and done, we die alone. We can be surrounded by loved ones, but in the end, that soul is yours and you’re going to face God.”

Hopes for the book

More than selling copies or adding to the number of books he’s written, Fr Flader had one main goal in writing this book: to help save souls. “My hope is that first of all, it will help many people get to heaven, who might not otherwise have got there,” he says.

He also wants people to realise that life after death is eminently positive. “We don’t present God as the God of wrath, the God of judgment, the God of punishment, but the God of mercy, the God of love, which is what He is, and He wants all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Hopefully this book will help many people come to the knowledge of the truth, be forgiven by God no matter how many sins they’ve committed, and be saved.”

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

the Pharisee and the Publican

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple has much to tell us. In this meditation we use texts of Scripture, St Augustine, St John Chrysostom and St Josemaria to reflect on how:

  • We too should endeavour to pray before the Blessed Sacrament whenever possible
  • The Pharisee’s pride and self-righteousness make his good deeds of less value
  • We should never judge others the way the Pharisee did
  • The tax collector teaches us the great importance of humility
  • We should regard all our virtues and good deeds as gifts from God.
  • We are all sinners and we should ask God to forgive us, as the tax collector did
  • We should do penance for our sins and go regularly to confession

Loving God in the Heart of Jesus

A depiction of our Lord, showing His most sacred Heart

The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Our Lord has loved us to the last drop of his blood and water, and he invites us to love him in return. In this meditation we use texts of Scripture, St Margaret Mary Alacoque and St Josemaria Escriva to consider how:

  • St John writes in his Gospel that Jesus has loved us “to the end” and in his first Letter that “God is love”.
  • Our Lord asked St Margaret Mary for the feast of the Sacred Heart, in order to increase love for him throughout the world.
  • St Margaret writes in a letter about the three streams that pour out from the heart of Christ.
  • We can grow in love for God and our neighbour in practical ways.

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Blessed Trinity

The Holy Spirit, also called the Paraclete, is often depicted by a dove

The prophet Isaiah introduces us to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are very important helps in living our spiritual life to the full. In this meditation we use texts of Sacred Scripture to consider:

  • The nature and role of the gifts
  • How they differ from the virtues
  • How each one of the seven gifts helps us in a particular way

Mary, our Mother

From the moment she conceived Jesus in her womb, Mary became the mother of his Mystical Body, the Church, and of all of us. In this meditation we use texts from Sacred Scripture, Pope St John Paul II, Pope St Paul VI, St Josemaria Escriva and St Bernard to consider how:

  • Mary gave birth to Jesus and to the Church in Bethlehem
  • From the Cross at Calvary, Jesus gave Mary to St John, and to each one of us, as our mother
  • Because of the pain she suffered when Christ’s body was pierced with a lance and the Church flowed from his side on Calvary, Mary has a special love for all her children
  • Mary exercises her motherly role in many moments related in the Scriptures
  • We can show our gratitude to Our Lady and honour her through such practices as the Rosary, the Angelus, Marian aspirations and pilgrimages

Loving to the end

Jesus washes the feet of the Apostles

Jesus washing his Apostle’s feet

In his account of the Last Supper, St John tells us that Christ loved his disciples “to the end”. After washing the apostles’ feet, Our Lord gave them the new commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.” In this meditation we use texts of Scripture, St Josemaria Escriva and Mother Teresa of Calcutta to consider how:

  • We should have a spirit of service, first with those in our family and then with others
  • We are helped to live charity if we see Christ in all those around us
  • If we live charity well, others will see Christ in us and know that we are his disciples
  • We can live charity, as Christ does, by forgiving those who have hurt us, by our patience and kindness, and by loving everyone, especially those we find most difficult

The value of self-denial

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Mount Calvary

Our Lord Jesus crucified

Our Lord invites us, if we would be his disciples, to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow him. We do this especially in Lent but we should do it throughout the year. In this meditation we use texts of Scripture and of St Josemaria Escriva to consider how:

  • Jesus Christ, out of love for us, took up the cross in his passion and death, and he suffered more than we ever will
  • There are many reasons for, and benefits from, living self-denial
  • Self-denial is essential for holiness
  • We can live self-denial in many ordinary ways
  • We should accept in a spirit of penance the crosses life brings
  • Those who live self-denial find joy in this life and in the next

Souls of prayer

The agony in the garden of Gethsemane

Our Lord praying

Christ spent forty days praying and fasting in the desert before beginning his public ministry and he prayed intensely in Gethsemane on beginning his Passion. In this meditation we use these examples of Our Lord and texts of St Josemaria Escriva to consider:

  • How and why we should be souls of prayer
  • The different forms our prayer can take
  • The need to have regular times set aside each day for prayer
  • How to pay attention and fight distractions in our prayer
  • The need to persevere in our habit of prayer throughout our life

The value of temptations

Christ sends Satan away after His temptation

A depiction of Christ’s temptation

We all experience temptations. They are a consequence of original sin and of our being subject to the world, the flesh and the devil. But in addition to being sources of sin, temptations can also be sources of sanctity. In this meditation we consider:

  • Christ’s temptations in the desert, which are very similar to our own
  • Christ’s example in overcoming the temptations
  • How we can use temptations to grow in sanctity and human virtues
  • What we can do to overcome temptations

With Christ in Lent

Face of Christ in the Passion

A depiction of Jesus Christ’s passion

Lent presents a splendid opportunity to grow closer to God spiritually, to accompany Our Lord through the Cross to the Resurrection. In this meditation we consider how:

  • Lent symbolises our life on earth with its trials and tribulations  and Easter symbolises the joy of our life with God in heaven
  •  In Lent we quicken the pace of our life towards our encounter with Christ at the end of our life
  • Our prayer and fasting with Christ in his forty days in the desert strengthen us to resist temptations, as Christ did
  • Christ’s love for us “to the end” moves us to show our love for him by living Lent well
  • Lent is a time for repentance and the resolution to try harder to avoid sin
  • We can live Lent through the three traditional ways of prayer, fasting and works of charity