Life is Short, a Catholic Perspective

Last weekend I had the opportunity to spend time with some people I love in Wisconsin’s beautiful Northwoods. Time was spent outdoors during the day and in supper clubs at night. As is often the case, some of the best conversations came with cocktails. Also as is often the case, some points were not made the most effectively.

The Sitch

Reflecting on the day and beyond, someone rightly pointed out how short life is. This person said that he has been thinking about this more lately and how important good memories with loved ones are. I responded that I also have been thinking about this lately and concurred on the importance of good memories with loved ones, punctuating the end by saying “and being in a state of grace”. I mentioned this because it’s something that often crosses my own mind as I reflect on the complexities of our short lives and how it’s important that we seek to always be in a state of grace in case our final day comes as a thief in the night (1 Thes 5:2). I was directing my statement to my entire group because I love them. Also, I mentioned it because it was relevant to everyone seeing as, due to mankind’s fallen nature, it is something everyone regularly fails at. Unfortunately, the matter-of-fact tone with a pat of the bar might have sounded a bit unctuous immediately before being ushered to our table, preventing me from expanding on my point. So I’ll expand now since it makes for a nice little blog post.

On Grace

Being in a state of grace at the time of death is what gets us into heaven. This is accomplished by one continually strengthening themselves in following the example of Christ and frequent confession. No one wants to be caught off-guard when the “thief” comes in the night.

Grace: Condition of a person who is free from mortal sin and pleasing to God. It is the state of being in God’s friendship and the necessary condition of the soul at death in order to attain heaven.
-Online Catholic Dictionary

The Catholic Church understands this properly and encourages Christians to constantly look for new ways to become better. A stagnant spiritual life is actually a spiritual life slipping backwards. Or, as GK Chesterton says and as Bishop Robert Barron coincidentally quoted in his homily yesterday, the worst way to keep a fence post white is by doing nothing. In order for us to heed the words of Saint Paul, we need to run the “race” of life by constantly moving forward to claim the “imperishable wreath” waiting in heaven (1 Cor 9:24).  Thus, we need to be in a perpetual state of conversion for the sake of our souls.

Life and Death, Bodily and Spiritual

“If you could meet anyone, who would it be?” A lot of people answer this ice-breaker claiming they want to meet Jesus Christ. I want to meet God too, but often people (including myself) assume this first meeting will be filled with smiles, hugs, and flowers. It’s telling that a common response to coming face-to-face with Jesus in the Bible is to fall onto one’s knees trembling in utter humility and even shame, probably because the moment someone meets God, Who embodies the fullness of love, truth, and justice, they are held to account for the way they lived life. I view it as analogous to a teenager trusted by his parents to stay at home while they go out of town. Allow me to elaborate:

While the parents are gone, the child, thinking he has plenty of time to tie up loose ends before they return, does many things he knows his parents wouldn’t be pleased with: has parties, makes messes, lets people sleep over, dings up the car, etc. The entire time the teen is enjoying himself and ,while perhaps not doing anything “that bad” (after all, no one has died!), he knows his parents love him very much. But how would the child act if, unannounced, the parents returned before he could get the house in order?

The parents open the front door to find a destructive mess, lingering smoke, and empty beer cans. The teen now knows his parents have just arrived and is upstairs. Sure, he knows his parents love him more than anything else, but does he rush down the stairs to joyfully embrace them or does he become fearful. Chances are, at that moment, he’d do anything for just one extra day to make things right.

All the times we turned our back on God without seeking forgiveness will be brought forth in the presence of the light of Christ (lumen Christi) just as dust collected on a desk is observed when the morning sun hits it. So, seriously, how would you act and feel the moment you meet Christ? Would you confidently approach Him with your arms extended or would you suddenly recollect all the ways you turned your back to Him. If we were all to answer honestly, it would probably be anything but the former.

Anyone familiar with Scripture knows that the words “life” and “death” are often used in two ways. Life and death have their obvious bodily meanings, such as when Lazarus was raised from the dead but Scripture, perhaps more frequently, uses these terms in a spiritual sense also.

Seraphim_-_Petites_Heures_de_Jean_de_Berry
Two seraphim surround the divine Throne in this 14th-century painting by Jean de Berry. Seraphim are portrayed with six wings.

When God says “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die” (Gen 3:3), He was not implying the fruit was poisonous and Eve would clutch her stomach and topple over. He was warning her that her spirit would die, she’d fall from grace. And, as Christians should know from the words of Jesus Himself, a dead soul is far scarier than a dead body. Eve might have thought she dodged a bullet when she ate the fruit and continued breathing, but in reality what happened was far worse. A dead soul is a damned soul, a soul that has permanently shut out the light of God. That’s why Hell is sometimes described not as a place of hot fires, but as motionless, lonely, and bitter cold. Cold because it is so far away from God’s love (described as burning fire in Scripture). In fact, this is where the name for the highest of the nine choirs of angels originates. The angels closest to God are called Seraphim, which is Hebrew for “consumed with fire”.

<Infobit> These angels are guardians of the Lord’s Throne and sing:

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus
Dominus Deus Sabaoth
Holy, Holy, Holy
Lord God of Hosts

 


Does this sound familiar to anyone??

Grace-768x365
One of the many nifty graphics from the Baltimore Catechism

So too does Scripture use the term “life” in the spiritual sense. When Jesus said “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:51), he isn’t implying we will walk earth forever like a zombie. He is saying that, by the consummation of the covenant between us (the Church) and Himself that takes place at Communion (which can only be valid if the communicant is in a state of grace just as for a marriage to be valid certain requisites need to be met),our souls may have eternal life in heaven which is absolute spiritual perfection.

::wipes brow:: – whew

And I tried to convey all that with a quip so quick, the bartender couldn’t even garnish my martini with a bleu cheese-stuffed olive in time.

The Point I was Trying to Make

This is something we all need to think about more. Everyone has their own attachments and appetites that need to be heroically battled in daily life–even if we think they are relatively small. And, if we care for the well-being of the souls of others (including our enemies) as we are commanded to do, we will try to not avoid this topic!

The life of our soul is born when we are baptized and dies every time we turn our back on God. It is reborn each time we come face to face with God–the priest in persona Christi–in the confessional. The older we get, the more vigilant we need to be that our body does not pass away at a time when our soul is already deadened. Good memories are good on earth, but I’d image they’re great in heaven. ☩

Saint Michael, Saint Raphael, and Saint Gabriel, the archangels (note: the third choir of angels), please intercede for the strength of all the faithful men and women reading this.

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