Living Now in the Hope of Eternity: The Resurrection, Are You Ready?
Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2).
The Easter season is a sublime and sacred time in which our heart sings: "The Lord is risen!" The wondrous mystery of the resurrection and eternal life awaits, for if we have lost our life for the sake of Christ (Mt. 10:39), if we have been "united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his" (Rom. 6:5). Sustained by this wondrous and astonishing promise that Christ himself has won for us, our life ought to be re-energized with a new and lasting hope that transforms us beyond what we formerly were: "Indeed, the Lord is risen!"
"But are we," wrote then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "really expecting this resurrection? And eternal life? The statistics tell us that many Christians, even churchgoers, have given up believing in eternal life, or at any rate regard it as a pretty uncertain business" (God Is Near Us 130).
It is true that not much can be said about the nature of eternal life. What is an unending "now" of life with God? And what, precisely, will an experience of the general resurrection entail? "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" (1 Jn 3:2).
It is not completely unlike once again residing in our mother's womb: how much can we possibly know of the great expanse that awaits us "out there." Yet death, like birth, is imminent -- and so too is that moment in which we will pass through the veil of death into the mysterious, ongoing existence which lies beyond it.
It is likely that, as Pope Benedict XVI notes in his encyclical On Christian Hope, the reason we see such an extensive loss of faith today is because of a lack of the desire to live on forever: "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" (Spe Salvi 10 § 2).
The Experience of God
There are a number of attitudes and phenomena which can be blamed for the loss of hope in eternal life. Some Christians put little stock in the resurrection simply because they are overly attached to this present, shadowy state of life. Others are of the mind that it might happen but show little conviction for the fact that it will happen: the notion of immortality seems just too fantastic; thus the focus is on the here and now. And some even secretly fear that eternal life will be but an endless expanse of tiresome, knee-bending worship -- hardly something for which to hope.
While the list could be greatly extended, all of these tragic issues stem back to a diminished -- or lack of -- faith, hope and charity; and if that is the case, it has come about in Christians due to sin and a lack of the awareness of God's indwelling presence within the soul. In a word, God is neglected. The heat of fiery love for the divine Other has grown tepid, even cold. The love of God for his own sake, which ought to burn brightly in the depths of men's souls, has been replaced with a love for finite, created objects: God, then, by such an attitude, is subjectively relegated to a position below those things he himself has made!
While we ordinarily receive the infused theological virtues of faith, hope and charity through the sacrament of Baptism as we are incorporated into Christ and given the incomparable gift of the Holy Spirit, it is perhaps easier to allow these sublime and supernatural gifts to wane than we would like to admit. Are we burning with faith, hope and charity? If not, why not? These are questions upon which our ongoing life in eternity might well hinge; therefore it would be quite insane to dismiss them.
Here we arrive at an important aspect of our Christian faith: if one ignores God long enough and therefore fails to respond to the divine prompts of the Holy Spirit frequently enough, there is always the danger that God will withdraw his grace: "So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth" (Rev. 3:16).
We can hardly expect God to constantly look upon us with favor and shower us with his blessed gifts if we repeatedly ignore his love and make no effort to give of ourselves in return. Perhaps we have all had the experience of knowing someone who has lost the faith they once had. Very often, such a tragedy takes place in stages and over an extended period of time as the heart is gradually transformed into stone through sin and disrespect for God. Whatever the case, it is crucial to treasure our faith for the magnificent gift it is, respond to God's grace, live a life of zealous holiness and charity, and unceasingly adore God in prayer for his life-giving gifts of love.
Further, an awareness of the Holy ...
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