Only a few days after my brother’s death three years ago, I was at dinner with my sister and her family, when she asked, of no one in particular, “Where do you imagine Bob is now?” Good question, which happens to coincide with the theme in each of today’s three readings: the perfect life that we believe awaits us after death as pure gift of God’s infinite love.
In the first reading, from the Hebrew Bible, the crimes of a sleazy nation are punished by God, who then establishes a rule of justice and peace and love. (Keep in mind, by the way, that belief in life after death was not the faith of the Jewish people for many, many centuries. It developed slowly and somewhat sporadically right up to Jesus’ time.)
In the passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus, we find immense hope in the assurance that a loving God lifts us even out of death. Paul says we are given what he calls “a place in the heavens.” His essential message seems to be that, even while we are struggling through this often difficult, painful life, we have a secure place reserved for us in the wonderful life that awaits us after death.
That last sentence, I know, is the “pie-in-the-sky” statement that invites the ridicule of non-believers. And that shouldn’t be hard for us to understand. After all, atheists and we have two diametrically opposed points of view. Nonetheless, we can live in mutual respect, realizing that the existence of God can neither be proved nor disproved. So we believers speak of it as pure gift.
But what should concern us is that we not use our belief in perfect life beyond death as an excuse for not investing as energetically as we can in this present life on Planet Earth. In other words, we mustn’t remain uninvolved in the things of earth because we think they don’t matter as compared with what lies ahead. The only existence we know is this one, and it too is gift of the Creator, who makes us co-creators in the constant development of life.
And then, the Gospel, that intriguing, fragmentary conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, with its assurance that Jesus’ mission is not to condemn and punish us but to save us even from self-destruction. What he offers is ours for the taking – no strings attached. We have only to accept it, claim it, count on it, allow it to influence our thinking and our deciding.
I’m one of those persons who are extremely sensitive to the weather: a cloudy, gray day dampens my mood, while a bright, sunny day lifts my spirit and makes everything and everyone look beautiful. To believe in everlasting life is to live in such a light, which suggests how indescribably glorious must be the life-giving light of Jesus seen in full intensity!
A while back, I celebrated Mass several times with a group of Catholic men who are gay. I was deeply moved by their quiet devotion, their humble confidence in the love and mercy of Jesus, their firm faith as they received him in Eucharistic Communion. Oppressed as they so often are, even by those who call themselves Christian, they live in expectation of God’s salvation, and they are confident that Jesus loves them just as they are.
I used to think that I knew a lot more when I was much younger! What I’m certain of now is that God loves this whole universe because it is God’s creation. I believe that it all moves on to life in some form by way of union with the Creator God. And I know that I must live every minute of my short time here on earth in ways that are consistent with that conviction.