Jesus and eternal life

THE MEANING OF LIFE

      “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly” (John 10:10)

We know that life is a mystery –  and yet we want to understand why there is life, and so much life. The other morning there was a loud noise coming from the back gutter of my house, so I opened a window upstairs and a bunch of Blue jays flew away – a beautiful sight to see! Everywhere we go the world is teeming with life – life, beautiful life!

But it was not supposed to be so! From everything I’ve read, inanimate matter, which preceded organic life, is utterly incapable of generating biological life. Like everywhere else in the universe, there should be physics and chemistry, but the stunning world of biology on planet earth is quite a surprise!!, and in a very real sense it is something akin to the miraculous. “The evolution of modern cells is arguably the most challenging and important problem the field of Biology has ever faced” (Carl Richard Woese, famous American microbiologist).

“…no life, no biology, only physics and chemistry….we only have evidence that it happened on one planet, after a lapse of half a billion to a billion years.  So the sort of lucky event we are looking at could be so wildly improbable that the chances of its happening, somewhere in the universe, could be as low as one in a billion billion billion in any one year.  If it did happen on only one planet, anywhere in the universe, that planet has to be our planet—because here we are talking about it”  (Richard Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable).

The Catholic Church claims to repeat on its altars each day this stunning transformation of inanimate or non-living matter into biological life through, anthropologically speaking, the incantation of a priestly blessing over bread and wine. The whole thing seems (without faith) wildly improbable, and yet in the well documented literature of Eucharistic miracles there appears to be compelling evidence that it has happened on more than one occasion. Amazing, but then again biological life itself is wildly improbable (see Joan Carroll Cruz’ well researched book, Eucharistic Miracles, which documents many stunning miracles of such sort)!

We come, then, to the person of Jesus Christ, who claims to be “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). In his teachings he accentuates over and over again the central point that the meaning of life is eternal life. “In the preaching of Jesus everything is directed immediately toward Eternal Life” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange). The Gospel of John, in fact, is often referred to as the “Gospel of Eternal Life.” Now we have this amazing phenomenon that a group of apostles witnessed the dead cellular structure of Jesus’ crucified body come back to life! Jesus, in fact, went out of his way to demonstrate to the apostles – and on more than one occasion – that his resurrected body was a real, human body, the very body he had before his death (“Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” – Luke 24:39).

Thus, the apostles were not left wondering whether they had seen Jesus in the flesh following his death and burial – Jesus went out of his way on multiple occasions to make sure that they had!  And these apostles were men that went on to live heroic lives, to suffer and die for what they had witnessed, spawning the amazing rise of the Christian faith despite insurmountable obstacles, and without any resort to violence.

The mystery of life most certainly involves the stunning interplay between inanimate, inert matter and living things. And perhaps in this light it should not be so stunning, after all, that God can bring dry bones back to life! (see Ezekiel 37).

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

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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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GREEDY FOR HEAVEN

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                        “Be ambitious for the higher gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31)

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.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Inspiration: The Imitation of Christ (chapter 48); 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).

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