The Most Neglected Truth: Remembering Eternity

The Most Neglected Truth: Remembering Eternity

When we look at our lives, if we are honest, the vast majority of our time, the vast majority of our effort, and the vast majority of our resources are spent on earthly pursuits.  The problem with that is that we have no lasting home here.[1]  Even if we love God and spend daily time with him, most of us have our treasure in earthen vessels that will be destroyed.  Our treasure is not often in heaven where it is safe from corruption.[2]  After a life which quickly passes, we will all face the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell.  Either we will spend eternity beholding God face to face in indescribable bliss, knowing and loving even as we are fully known and loved, and becoming partakers of the Divine nature,[3] or we will spend eternity in hell, separated from the one being who makes life worth living, without whom we can never be happy, God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Sadly, most of us ignore this truth day in and day out.  To live this brief life constantly consumed with earthly pursuits and scarcely ever think about the reality of eternity is very foolish.  In this article, I am going to focus on the reality of eternity, and the devastating consequences of living solely for this world.

 We need to first consider the true nature of eternity.  By definition, eternity means without end.  It means that in whatever state we are in, we will stay in that state forever.  No further chances, no hope for a positive change.  All is irrevocably fixed.  In comparison to eternity, this life is very brief; 100 years is as a moment in eternity.  We need to let this truth sink in and recognize that the things we often think are so important are really, in the large scope of eternity, not important at all.  Whether we win our fantasy football league matters not at all, whether our shirt really matches our pants, not important, the size of our home, or for that matter, whether we ever own a home, not important.  What will matter is the purity of our love for God and others, the brightness of our faith in God, and the strength of our hope in God.  To understand the true meaning of our lives, we desperately need an eternal perspective.  We need to see our lives on this earth as a small participation in eternity.  So long as we have breath in our lungs and a beating heart, there is still time for us to prepare to spend eternity with God.  But the moment we die, the particular judgment of our soul commences and then we are out of time.  If we do not love God then, we will never love Him.  Let that sink in.  Our most urgent need is growing in love for God.  For if you and I are in heaven with the Lord, we will see the things that now seem so important for what they truly are: insignificant temporal realities that are fading away.[4]

 This does not mean, of course, that we should not engage in temporal affairs.  In fact, the laity have a special obligation to bring the light of Christ into their jobs, their hobbies, their activities, and to permeate society with the light of Christ.[5]  But it does mean that as lay Catholics we must live in such a way that all temporal realities become subject to Christ.  We only engage in the things of the world to bring Christ to the world, which means that we must engage the things of the world only to the extent which and in the manner which Christ is glorified.  Serving Christ is not a carve out from our daily lives of self-gratification; it is the reason we get up in the morning.  We often act, myself included, as if loving the things of the world and loving the things of God are reconcilable.  But St. James tell us just the opposite: friendship with the world makes us enemies of God.[6]  We must choose our allegiance carefully: those who are of the world, which is full of unrighteousness, will not inherit the Kingdom of God.[7]  Those who are of God, who possess the Spirit of God and live according to that Spirit, will inherit the Kingdom of God.

 In light of this fundamental truth about eternity, a truth that none can escape, what can we do to reorient our lives so that eternity becomes something we look forward to, and not a fear we refuse to think about until the moment of death when our opportunity is gone? 

Firstly, we should begin to think about eternity more, which means that we will be thinking less about the things of the world.  Everyday, we should reflect on what heaven will be like.  Everyday, we should strive to see our lives from an eternal perspective.  We should ask Jesus to show us what is truly important and what should be disregarded.  We should strive to withdraw our heart from the love of visible things and contemplate those which are invisible.  As was said so eloquently: “Be determined to detach your heart from the love of visible things, allowing it to center on those unseen.”[8]  We should strive, in short, to participate in heaven while on earth.  To the extent that we love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul, and our neighbor as ourself,[9] we will be sharing in the true joy of heaven.  This is why our Lord taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”[10]

Secondly, we should strive to order our lives so that the things that have the most eternal significance are prioritized above the things that have less eternal significance.  This pertains to how we spend our time, how we spend our money, and how we use our gifts.   Taking care of our husband or wife should come before entertainment.  Studying our faith should come before studying anything else.  Our prayer time with Christ should come before home improvement projects.  Giving of our wealth to Christ and to help people should come before purchasing luxuries.  After all, it is not really our time, our money, or our gifts.  Jesus Christ has simply loaned us time, money, and gifts to build His Kingdom on earth.  He will, of course, expect interest on his investment, as we are told in the Parable of the Talents,[11] and we cannot hope to produce much interest unless the Kingdom of God is the primary desire of our heart that guides our prioritization of all else.  As our Lord said so eloquently, “But seek first [H]is [God’s] kingdom and [H]is righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”[12]

Finally, we should seek to gain strength from the promise of eternity with God, strength which will help us to bear the hardships of this life.  For it is only through such hardships that we can attain to union with God.[13]  When we are sad, we can think about the joys of heaven.  When we are angry, we can think about the righteousness of heaven.  When we are maligned and persecuted for our faith, we can rejoice that God is using these sufferings[14] to bring souls to heaven where He will wipe every tear from our eyes.[15]  Those who act as if this life were all that mattered will not have the strength to suffer well.  As Christians, our strength to suffer well comes from the conviction that such suffering unites us to Christ, who is our one true joy.

None of us fully live up to the high standard of ordinary Christian living, which is extraordinary, but rather than despairing at the gap between our lives and the call to holiness, let us begin again by taking some of these concrete steps and putting them into effect today.  As all of the Saints of God attest, the mercy of God is far greater than our misery.

[1] Hebrews 13:14: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.”  (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition).

[2] St. Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition).

[3] 2 Peter 1:4.

[4] 1 John 2:17: “And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition).

[5] Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam Actuositatem (2) (Vatican II): “Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the [S]pirit of Christ.”

[6] James 4:4: “Unfaithful creatures!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore[,] whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

[7] Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

[8] Thomas ‘A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book 1, Chapter 1.

[9] St. Matthew 22:35-40.

[10] St. Matthew 6:10 (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition).

[11] St. Luke 19:12-27.

[12] St. Matthew 6:33.

[13] The Acts of the Apostles 14:22.

[14] Cf. James 1:2-3.

[15] Revelation 21:4: “[H]e will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition).

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Written by
Michael Vacca