Q: It seems one of the gifts we have received from our Creator is the opportunity to grow in wisdom and love. Catholics and Buddhists believe that this gift continues even after death through the respective concepts of purgatory and reincarnation. It seems to me that these concepts have the same starting point (continued growth) but developed differently due to cultural and historical reasons. Is there any basis for my speculation? Or, to put it another way, can the concept of reincarnation be compatible in any way with Christianity? — MC, Illinois

A: +Dear MC,

It seems to me that your thoughts regarding reincarnation and purgatory point in the right direction. Both ideas are rooted in our intuition that our inner life is a growth process; both are based on an awareness that this process is not completed in this lifetime; both express the hope that this process can continue after our death. Reincarnation and purgatory develop this intuition, this awareness, and this hope in ways that differ, “due to cultural and historical reasons,” as you rightly point out.

Karl Rahner, the eminent 20th century Catholic Christian theologian, expressed his opinion that Buddhists and Christians could gain deeper insights into both reincarnation and purgatory by comparing their teachings in this field of speculation. (My reply to your question has been delayed by my efforts to find the essay on purgatory in which Karl Rahner made this statement. I’m sorry, but i have misfiled the reference.) Unfortunately, Karl Rahner died before he could explore this matter further. I suppose he knows more about it by now, but this still leaves us guessing.

— Your Brother David

Br. David Steindl-Rast Trust
Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

About the author

Brother David Steindl-Rast — author, scholar, and Benedictine monk — is beloved the world over for his enduring message about gratefulness as the true source of lasting happiness. Known to many as the “grandfather of gratitude,” Br. David has been a source of inspiration and spiritual friendship to countless leaders and luminaries around the world including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, and more. He has been one of the most important figures in the modern interfaith dialogue movement, and has taught with thought-leaders such as Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, and Roshi Joan Halifax. His wisdom has been featured in recent interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Krista Tippett, and Tami Simon and his TED talk has been viewed almost 10,000,000 times. Learn more about Br. David here.