In one the first RCIA classes I attended 21 years ago Father asked a question to the class. How many in this room are at least a little afraid of dying? Many, including the catechists, didn’t raise their hands; some of us, including me and surprisingly Father Mike, did. He then went on to say that it was normal to be nervous, a little afraid of the future because it is an unknown; and dying even more so, because it is an unknown involving eternity.
At the very beginning of his trilogy on Jesus Nazareth Pope Benedict XVI writes ‘In every age, man’s questioning has focused not only on his ultimate origin … [but also] what preoccupies him is the hiddenness of the future that awaits him. Man wants to tear aside the curtain; he wants to know what is going to happen, so that he can avoid perdition and set out toward salvation.’
So it is that mankind’s curiosity of eternity hovers on the edge of fear. Most people are fearful of eternity because they are not really convinced they know what it entails. Even the most devout Christians who believe Christ’s revelation about what it entails are fearful that we won’t pass the grade when it comes. So it is no surprise that today’s Gospel and St. Paul’s words today at Mass from his 1st letter to the Thessalonians make us at least a little nervous. “Concerning times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.” we heard from St. Paul today and as I heard these words I felt myself wonder will I be caught unaware to enter eternity. When the time comes will I be worthy of the Kingdom of God – heaven?
The Jews of the Bible viewed eternity somewhat differently than we do. I bet if I asked each of you what eternity means you would say it is where we end up after we die (or some variation of that) – something down the proverbial road from now; somewhere in future. Not so with the Jews of Jesus day; eternity to them was the present onward. History was yesterday and back; but eternity begins now – with the present.
Brothers and sisters, as our Jewish brothers understand we have reached eternity; and as Christ proclaims we have already entered into the Kingdom God. “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” He tells us in Mark. The truth of eternity/eternal life shouldn’t be uncertain – we know what it is – we have seen it. Jesus praying to His Father gives us this knowledge: “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ”.
The questions of what eternity is and when it starts are answered – there should be no uncertainty. Our concerns should be centered on how we live our life at this beginning of eternity. Our energies should be focused on following the true path – Jesus Christ; because without Him we are lost. The good news is that Christ has given us the surest guide and companion for our journey – Holy Mother Church. Today’s first reading from Proverbs gives us this great news. At first reading it seems to be about spousal love and self-giving, and it is. But it is also about Christ’s relation with His spouse – Holy Mother Church. Christ who has given us His bride to help us, to be our refuge, our guide; loves her absolutely ‘entrusting his heart to her’. With this understanding we can be assured that if we live within Holy Mother Church we are walking with Christ. The darkness of the world and its prince cannot pierce the light of Christ that shines through His bride. Holy Mother Church who radiates the light of Christ bathes her children in that same light – if we allow her to. With her we walk along eternity towards her spouse and our final home. With her we need to bring as many of our neighbors who live in darkness into the light of eternal certitude – into the loving embrace of God.