eternal life

THE QUEST FOR ETERNAL LIFE

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3)

The Bible tells us that God has life in Himself (John 5:26). This statement is logically true inasmuch as nothing could exist unless there was an eternal source of Life to begin with. The human mind comprehends quite clearly that something cannot come from nothing. The Eternal source of everything else is God – who has life in Himself. The essential revelation of God in Jesus Christ is God’s desire to share His Eternal Life with his human creatures. Amazing, but true.

In the ancient literature of human civilization we hear a clear echo of the human heart’s desire for life everlasting in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Warren Carroll states: “The most striking characteristic of the Epic of Gilgamesh is its absolute honesty in facing the riddle of death.” For all his feats of heroism, Gilgamesh, the dragon-slayer, cannot slay death. After lamenting the death of his dear comrade-in-arms, Enkidu, Gilgamesh goes in search of eternal life in order to escape the “house of darkness.” When he finds the only man to have cheated death, Utnapishtim, he receives the grim news that Utnapishtim’s gift cannot be shared.  “What shall I do,” says Gilgamesh to Utnapishtim, “Death is dwelling in my bedchamber…wherever I set my feet there is death.”

Father Garrigou-Lagrange states that:

“In the preaching of Jesus, everything is directed immediately toward eternal life.”

The great spiritual writer, Father Lallemant, goes even further in associating Jesus with eternal life. He states:

“Everything in Jesus is a principle of eternal life.”

Jesus himself says, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and that “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). This eternal life is given to us initially in baptism (“the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” – see John 4:15; 3:5; CCC 694), and is continually nourished in us through the Holy Eucharist (“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” – John 6:54).

“The term eternal life is a central theme found in the Gospel of John. The very purpose of John’s gospel was that ‘you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (Jn 20:31; cf. 1 Jn 5:13), ‘life’ being synonymous with ‘eternal life’. Jesus says that, ‘this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’ (John 17:3). Howard Marshall believes that ‘the most comprehensive term in John for what Jesus gives to people is life or eternal life, which is to be understood as sharing in the life of God [John 1:4]’ ” (from Theopedia).

Are you searching for eternal life? Stay very close to Jesus Christ in faith, hope and love, for he is the principle and source of what you are looking for.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Tom Mulcahy

References: The discussion regarding the quest for eternal life in The Epic of Gilgamesh is derived from Chapter One of The Founding of Christendom by Warren H. Carroll. In The Spiritual Doctrine Father Lallemant says, in a discussion on Holy Communion, that “Everything in Him is a principle of eternal life for Himself and for men; everything in us is a principle of corruption and of death for ourselves and for others.” In The Three Ages of the Interior Life the great Father Garrigou-Lagrange writes:

“In the preaching of Jesus, everything is directed immediately toward eternal life. If we are attentive to His words, we shall see how the life of eternity differs from the future life spoken of by the best philosophers, such as Plato. The future life they spoke of belonged, in their opinion, to the natural order; they though it “a fine risk to run,” without having absolute certltude about it. On the other hand, the Savior speaks with the most absolute assurance not only of a future life, but of eternal life superior to the past, the present, and the future; an entirely supernatural life, measured like the intimate life of God, of which it is the participation, by the single instant of immobile eternity.”

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TEN QUICK THOUGHTS ABOUT ETERNAL LIFE

“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2)

“It is my Father’s will that whoever sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and that I should raise that person up on the last day” (John 6:40)

Reflection:

1. The magnitude of these words of Father Garrigou-Lagrange: “In the preaching of Jesus everything is directed immediately toward Eternal Life.” The whole goal of the Christian life is the attainment of Eternal Life.

2. The incredible shortness of earthly life (death being so inevitable and the opportunity to do it well given only once).

3. The incredible length of Eternal Life. It will never end.

4. By the grace received in baptism we have already been introduced into this Eternal Life. “Through baptism we have already received the seed of eternal life, for through it we received sanctifying grace which is the radical principle of that life; and with sanctifying grace we received infused charity, which ought to last forever” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange). Mortal sin is the true enemy of this powerful life of grace we have within us.

5. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Eternal Life. Jesus proclaimed: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life….” (John 6:53-54).“Through the food of the Eucharist,” writes Saint John Paul II, “Christ’s eternal life penetrates and flows within human life. Therefore, as St. Thomas Aquinas writes, the Eucharist is ‘the culmination of the spiritual life and the goal of all the sacraments.’” Question: in light thereof, how devoted am I to the Holy Eucharist? “It [should] be every man’s trade, occupation, profession, leisure, and ambition, to worship the Blessed Sacrament” (F.W. Faber).

6. Jesus – by way of His resurrection appearances –  gives us a profound glimpse at some of the amazing characteristics of a resurrected and glory-filled human body which has been raised to eternal life: it can no longer die; it no longer experiences pain or weariness; it is no longer bound by time or space; it has no need for sleep; it does not experience pain or illness (see pages 285-290 of Christ In His Mysteries by Blessed Columba Marmion). Jesus “by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). How amazing it will be to have a risen, immortal body!

7. The Father is the source of Eternal Life for “as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). God has Eternal Life in Himself. In fact, Eternity is one of His Infinite perfections. Stunningly, he calls us to share in His Eternal Blessedness, to become partakers of His Divine nature, to share in His Eternal joy!

8. The consequences of missing out on Eternal Life would be unbearable.

9. The amazing graces we have already received from God to secure our salvation and entry into the Eternal Life of Heaven, where it cannot be lost.

10. “We must, must, must live forever….We cannot get out of the way of eternity: we cannot turn the corner of it. My Jesus, where shall we flee? Make friends with eternity. Oh, then, that God would send us an angel to tell us on what eternity a good eternity depends [Heaven or Hell]. Oh this eternity is a tremendous thing. Make up your minds that you will not go to hell. On your knees, look at the crucifix, now say with me aloud – Oh Jesus, mercy – now again once more, louder from your hearts – Oh Jesus, mercy!” (F.W. Faber, edited and modified).

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: I relying prominently on Father Faber who often reflects on the shortness of life, the inevitability of death, the importance of preparation for death, and the great length of eternity. The quote in number 10 is from his notes on “Eternity” in Notes on Doctrinal and Spiritual Subjects, Volume II, pages 340-342.

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SMALL RESURRECTIONS AND BEAUTIFUL PIGEON FEATHERS

 

“For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature.” (Romans 1:20)

 “…unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat…. (John 12:24)

Christians often view resurrection as an event that will occur down the road – after death – in that future time beyond time. We see the relevance of resurrection as something that happened in the past to Jesus, and as something we hope will happen to us in the future. The purpose of this note is to focus on death and resurrection, not as future events, but as events that are part of the very fabric of our daily lives. The seeds of eternal life are sown during our time on earth, so that time is the medium through which eternity must force its way into our hearts and souls. Christianity is a religion that requires a resurrection in one’s life before death if there is to be a resurrection to eternal life after death. Using an example from literature,I hope to shed some light on how, during the course of our lives, we encounter death and resurrection as first-hand experiences which draw us closer to God.

John Updike’s short story, Pigeon Feathers, presents a striking example of a person who undergoes a death and resurrection experience in the very context of trying to understand the meaning of death. In Updike’s story, David, at age 14, suddenly finds himself doubting his childhood faith at a time when the turbulence of a move to a new home has him feeling displaced and insecure. To strengthen his childhood belief in life after death, which he finds under attack after browsing through a book skeptical of Jesus’ resurrection, he turns to his parents for guidance and support. To his own surprise, David finds out that his parents’ faith in the claims of Christianity is not altogether that strong. In fact, David discovers, his father is practically an atheist!

Still, David holds out hope that his minister, Reverend Dopson, will confirm that each person’s soul is immortal. But far from providing David with consolation, Dopson shatters David’s security in life after death by suggesting that after death, “I suppose you could say that our souls are asleep.”

Panicked and depressed about his parents’ and his minister’s “submission to death,” David takes a rifle out to the family barn to shoot some pigeons. With “splinters of light” shining through the darkness of the barn, the barn becomes almost a micro-universe for David to work out his struggles with the issues of life and death. David then proceeds to the task of retrieving the dead pigeons he has shot in order to bury them.

David had never seen a pigeon up close before. An examination of some of the dead pigeons up close produced a resurrection in his life. Updike movingly describes David’s resurrection experience:

“The feathers were more wonderful than dog’s hair, for each filament was shaped within the shape of the feather, and the feathers in turn were trimmed to fit a  pattern that flowed without error across the bird’s body…and across the surface of the infinitely adjusted yet somehow effortless mechanics of the feathers played idle designs of color, no two alike, designs executed, it seems, in a controlled rapture, with a joy that hung level in the air above and behind him. Yet these birds breed into  the millions and were exterminated as pests. Into the fragrant open earth he dropped one broadly banded in slate shades of blue, and on top of it another, mottled all over in rhymes of lilac and grey. The next was almost wholly, white, but for a salmon glaze at its throat. As he fitted the last two, still pliant, on the top, and stood up, crusty coverings were lifted from him, and with a feminine slipping sensation along his nerves that seemed to give the air hands, he was robed in this certainty: That the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy his whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.”

David had to die to his childhood faith in order to be reborn into a deeper, more mature faith.  He had to take control over his own faith life rather than living it vicariously through his parents or his minister. He had to shoot down his childhood faith in order to see how precious and costly that faith was to him. The wonderful form, symmetry and beauty of the pigeon feathers revealed to David the majestic presence of a loving God. David discovered in a moment of time a transcendent truth: that God loved him with an everlasting love.

The deaths we die and the resurrections we experience in our daily lives are the events which shape who we are and what we are to become for all eternity. Whether it is a teenager in despair (like David) discovering God’s presence, or an addict finally falling to his knees to invoke God’s help, these are the kinds of experiences in life which radically draw us closer or further away from God. In the final analysis the person of Jesus helps us to understand that our desire for permanency is not an illusion. God “vindicated” Jesus in history by raising him from the dead. And by trusting in God, like Jesus, God will also open to us the door to eternal life.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

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JOHN 3:16: WE PERISH WHEN WE LOSE ETERNAL LIFE

 

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HARNESSING THE POWER OF JOHN 3:16 BY WAY OF A PERSONAL MEDITATION

(Jesus talking to Nicodemus in John, Chapter 3)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his his only-begotten Son,  that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“Here is gospel, good news indeed. Here is God’s love in giving his Son for the world. God so loved the world; so really, so richly. Behold and wonder, that the great God should love [us so much].” (Matthew Henry Bible Commentary on John 3:16)

Since John 3:16 is often considered the most powerful verse in the Bible, it only makes sense – at least once in our lives – to make it the subject of a profound and personal meditation. The purpose of this note, in fact, is to urge you to do so – to make time in your life for a John 3:16 meditation. Let the Holy Spirit convince you to make this meditation, and to enrich you by it (perhaps in a most incredible way).

Here is a format I propose for such a meditation.

1. Materials.  All you need to have with you is the verse itself (John 3:16) on a sheet of paper – nothing more. You are focusing only on this verse.

2. Location.  It is absolutely crucial you go somewhere special and quiet – ideally some place out in nature that places you in the majestic presence of God. Keep in mind that silence is a critical part of this meditation (interruptions need to be avoided). Even being alone in your parked car or room, especially when no one else is around, will work.

3. Body of Meditation (after having placed yourself in the presence of God, and having asked the Holy Spirit to make the meditation profitable to you).   A. Read John 3:16 slowly and silently as many times as you may want, letting the message and meaning of the verse enter into your heart. Go as slowly as you want.  B. Acknowledge in the depths of your heart God’s amazing love for you by sending his Son to save you.  C. Silently in your heart make any other considerations about this powerful verse that come to mind.  D. Wait silently upon the Holy Spirit to give you additional supernatural insight – grace filled insight – about this all-important verse in God’s word, and then spend time in silent, personal conversation with Jesus, sharing your heart with him and letting Him share his heart with you (receptive listening flows from being silently recollected in God’s presence).

4. Praise.  Acknowledge and adore Jesus as your Lord and Redeemer. It is permissible in meditation to use your imagination to visualize Jesus on the cross dying for the sins of the world, and to give him praise for loving you that much.

5. Thanksgiving.  Profoundly thank the Eternal Father for having sent his Son to save you.

6. Conclusion.  Resolve to make Jesus (even more) the center of your life in all that you do.

Scripture has an immense power, as the great spiritual writer F.W. Faber relates, to sanctify our souls and draw us closer to God.  John 3:16 is destined to do “a good work in your soul.”

Praise God!

Thomas L. Mulcahy

Image: Jesus and Nicodemus by William Brassey Hole (1846-1917). Public Domain, U.S.A. (at Wikipedia).

Reference: 3B above is verbatim from the commentary of The Ignatius Catholic Bible. Father Faber uses the expression, will “do a good work in your soul.” See also the following post which emphasizes that meditation provides a platform, or starting point, for deep and intimate conversation with God:

HOW TO MEDITATE AND DRAW CLOSER TO GOD | Catholic Strength

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THE IMMENSITY OF THE REWARD

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“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

In evaluating our lives, we should not discount the length of eternal life.  What God is offering to us, ETERNAL LIFE, is simply stunning, overwhelming and unfathomable! Certainly a fundamental part of the Ignatian Exercises is simply to do the math: to reflect on the shortness of life and the incredible length of eternity. And then to choose wisely, which is why we pray to the Holy Spirit for the gift of Wisdom. To miss out on Heaven – and all that Heaven is – simply cannot be an option. “Who could endure the loss?”

 As to death, it is a great grace to realize that we are going to die. In essence, our lives are but a preparation for death. God, in His providence, already knows the day and moment of our death, and He has already put in place the graces we will need to be saved. We need to cooperate with those graces, and all will be well.

Unfortunately, so many people live their lives without much thought about their impending death. They realize that other people die but they sort of see themselves as a bystander to the death of other people –  somehow convincing themselves that it won’t happen to them.

And although attending someone’s funeral may make such a person anxious about death, it is also the case that we are quite adept at putting in to place psychological defense mechanisms that quickly assuage such thoughts and turn our attention back to the world.

As I see it, there is a gigantic cultural conspiracy in place to convince us that we are not going to die. The plan is to outlive death by taking the right vitamins, wearing the best make-up, and seeing the best doctors. And yet everyone still dies. We are all on an absolute collision course with death. Only God knows for sure how much time we have left. And the clock keeps ticking.

I think it is interesting that in Mother Teresa‘s mystical life the Virgin Mary told her to tell families to say the rosary (reference: Come Be My Light, Doubleday, p.99). This prayer not only helps us to contemplate the life of Christ, including his death and resurrection, but it continually reminds us of the two most important moments in our lives – the present moment and the moment of our death. We ask Mary to “pray for us now and at the hour of our death.”  It is in the “sacrament of the present moment” that we can choose to conform our will to God’s grace, and it is at the moment of death that we need all of Heaven (that great cloud of witnesses, Hebrews 12:1) interceding for us to persevere to the end.  It is important to pray for the grace of final perseverance and for the fortitude to die a good death. It is reassuring to know that we are asking Mary’s help in this regard when we pray the rosary.

 In First Corinthians it says (at 2:9):

“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Don’t put your trust in the passing things of this world (those idols have no power to save you). Be a little greedy for Heaven, and in the process transform that greed into love and gratitude for a God who, after dying for our sins and humbling himself to be our very eternal life-giving food, has prepared for us such an immense reward that the magnitude of the joy and love we will experience in Heaven is beyond our narrow understanding, lasting for endless ages, in the glory of the “ever-blessed” life of God. In short, to say that Heaven is going to be awesome is an incredible understatement.

“For whoever would draw near to God must believe that He…rewards those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Inspiration: The Imitation of Christ; The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola; and F.W. Faber’s The Creator and the Creature (from where I derive the title to the note and I am otherwise heavily indebted to him for the tone and content of the note). Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta will be canonized by Pope Francis on September 4, 2016!

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