The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

From Eternity to Here

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
- 1John (RSV) 3:1-2

Continuing this series of reflections based upon Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical, Spe Salvi, it is time to turn to a compelling proposition presented by the Holy Father concerning "eternal life." The Pope reflects:

But then the question arises: do we really want this—to live eternally? Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment. To continue living for ever —endlessly—appears more like a curse than a gift. Death, admittedly, one would wish to postpone for as long as possible. But to live always, without end—this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable.
- Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

There exists a drive within each human being to strive for something better then what he has, today, but for the non-believer whom the Pope addresses in this passage, what exactly one works for remains disturbingly intangible. Man then turns to that which can be touched and felt and thus the accumulation of material goods becomes the apparent highway to happiness. More is better. In fact "more" defines success within the culture, especially in Western society and most notably in America. More has no limits and it remains insatiable. More money, more power, more sex, more drugs, more fame. And as Hollywood has proven, more is a dead end road. A simple skimming of the day's entertainment headlines is full of celebrities gone insane, gone to prison, or assumed room temperature over the fact that the pursuit of "more" was not all it was presented to be, and the despair that "more" turned out to be an existential lie.

And the lie is repeated and trumpeted incessantly to the point that one may find it difficult not to believe in it. How many television game shows are sold on the concept that one could win vast sums of money and one's problems would be solved? Even programs that portend the virtue of charity, such as Extreme Makeover Home Addition, send a message that life's most difficult problems are largely ameliorated with vast material goods. One interesting element of that show is the fact that each individual family member is given an oasis in the form of a highly customized bedroom within the home away from not only the world but even including an escape from the family.

Given this reality of the culture, the Pope's question regarding the potential lack of desire for eternal life proves perfectly reasonable. What possible motivation could one have to live forever in an existence that mirrors one's present life in a fallen world? There has to be something more. This hunger for the answer; this yearning to know; this instinctual grasping to understand perhaps begins to define the very texture of hope.

And because God is merciful, one does not have to wait for death to encounter true life. Yes, this temporal life represents an exile from the ultimate eternal glory that awaits the believer; however, this is not wasted time. So often the focus on the hereafter distorts the clarity of the here and now. For God created one as an eternal being from the moment of one's conception. Life, everlasting life, becomes the choice that gets made by the sojourning body through this state of existence. And if the choice is life, then the choice is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, today.

It is a choice. One has the free will to choose the way of the fallen world. A world full of many pleasures; many experiences; many good feeling; and many freedoms. Yet as alluring as the world may be, it is finite, limited, and fleeting. The pursuit of her happiness does not lead to hope but rather to a perpetual state of nonfulfillment and a struggle for inner peace. This struggle is not an illogical one as the Pope describes:

In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven. We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for. This unknown “thing” is the true “hope” which drives us, and at the same time the fact that it is unknown is the cause of all forms of despair and also of all efforts, whether positive or destructive, directed towards worldly authenticity and human authenticity. The term “eternal life” is intended to give a name to this known “unknown”. Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion. “Eternal”, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; “life” makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it.
Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

Maybe where hope truly resides lies in the death to self as Christ so often proclaimed in the Gospel and so perfectly demonstrated at Golgotha. Jesus could have had all the world had to offer. Satan offered him that very thing at the beginning of his ministry, and Christ rejected it. For while the world does have many beautiful things, its greatest attribute are the very souls who inhabit her. Notice the devil didn't dare offer Our Lord a claim on all the souls of the world for that would have left him with nothing but meaningless, empty things. Perhaps this realization fuels the devil's hatred of God and His creation. For even his rule of the Earth is limited. Eventually he loses everything and is left with only himself and the fallen angels and souls who follow him to perdition.

Christ rejected the riches of the world to claim those whom His Heavenly Father had fashioned in His image. Even the smallest amount of belief should give rise to faith. The joy of the here and now lies in the recognition of one's eternal nature; the continuous outreach and communion of Christ to His bride; and the hope that life, true life, continues on an even grander reality in the eternity now veiled from one's vision.


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