My family and I are Catholics, born and raised, baptism, CCD, First Communion, and everything else. My question is Joan (not real name) believes in reincarnation and has instilled this idea into Heather whom we are trying to raise Catholic. Joan says that at one time the Catholics believed in reincarnation and it was quoted in the Bible. Being a life long Catholic I have never heard this before, could you please answer me so I could let Heather know if it is true or if Joan just made it up.
Thank you for the e-mail. You are not alone in your question. Joan has fallen into biblical malpractice. She is taking a Scripture passage out of context and ignoring what the Catechism calls the analogy of faith-- "the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation" (#114).
Believers in reincarnation will often point to Mt. 11:14 where Jesus says that John the Baptist is "Elijah who is to come." However, from the context it is clear that Jesus is saying that John fulfills Elijah's role as precursor of the Messiah (cf. Mal. 4:5), not that he is the prophet's reincarnation. Moreover Elijah did not die but was taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). When Peter, James and John saw him at the moment of the Transfiguration, they did not confuse him with the Baptist. So the physical identification of Elijah with John does not make sense. They are two separate people, the latter taking on the former's role. A modern comparison might be the way Martin Luther King Jr. rather consciously took on the role of Moses.
Reincarnation is foreign to the Old Testament and especially to Jesus. He taught that this life is serious: it is the only one we have and how we live it will determine whether we spend eternity in heaven or in hell. (See the Catechism 1020-1060 for a very clear exposition of Jesus' teaching on life everlasting.) The doctrine of reincarnation might be very attractive to your niece, but I would urge her to think twice before she bets everything on coming back in a different body.
So many of our young people are attracted by reincarnation that I would like say more about why that pull is so strong--and why it is a fatal attraction. But I will save that for the correspondence part of my website when I have more time. I hope this has helped, Linda. Please let me know how things go with your niece. Meanwhile she, you and all your family have my prayers.
Fr. Phil Bloom
P.S. The Catholic Church never taught reincarnation. Our consistent teachings can be traced back to earliest times. Once again the Catechism with its abundant quotes from Scripture and early Church Fathers clearly shows that what we teach today is what has been taught from the very beginning.
Reincarnation and Abortion