We profess in the Nicene Creed of the Church each Sunday: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
By F. K. Bartels
12 April 2012
“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 Spirit’s indwelling presence within should be unceasingly fostered through prayer, for those in a state of grace are God’s sanctuary in the Spirit (see 1 Cor. 6:19). If we find ourselves frequently forgetting for an extended period of time the fact that God is immanently present, if we have become largely unaware that God is indeed sustaining us moment by moment, and if the resurrection seems more a fantasy than a future reality, then perhaps our priorities are distorted and our life has taken a wrong turn. If that should be the case, what is to be done?
The Christian Faith: A Life-Changing and Life-Sustaining Hope
It must be remembered that life in and through and with God is a particular way of life: it is a sacramental life lived in full communion with holy mother Church; it is a life lived by way of the cross in union with Christ; it is an interior life of humility and unceasing prayer in adoration of God in which we are conscious of the indwelling Spirit within, whose compassion and love shapes us and guides us toward our final end of eternal beatitude; it is a life infused with wondrous sanctifying grace in complete abandonment to Christ. It is a life lived in intimate union with a Person—not simply with a “something.” It is a wholly new life as royal members of the household of God.
If we are not living this Christian way of life, then it is time to reverse course. “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). Like the lost son, it is necessary to take stock of a dire situation, recognize its futility and dangerous nature, and thus return with profound sincerity and humility to the Father, that he may place a ring on our finger and sandals on our feet, that the fatted calf may be killed and the celebration begun (see Lk 15:11 ff.).
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!”
The Holy Father asks us if the Christian faith is for us today a life-changing and life-sustaining hope. “Is it ‘performative’ for us—is it a message which shapes our life in a new way, or is it just ‘information’ which, in the meantime, we have set aside and which now seems to us to have been superseded by more recent information?” (Spe Salvi 10 § 2). That is a profound and serious question; one which each of us must ponder in his or her own heart.
“O God, who on this day, through your Only Begotten Son, have conquered death and unlocked for us the path to eternity, grant, we pray, that we who keep the solemnity of the Lord’s Resurrection may, through the renewal brought by your Spirit, rise up in the light of life”—The Roman Missal Collect for the Sunday of The Resurrection.
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Photo Credit: Tintoretto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.