Friday, 20 July 2012

On entering eternity by a priest part 1

Death is a revealing of God, in fact that is by far the greatest happening in death.  How often do we look that far ahead, or consider seriously, what we have to expect in death. We take it for granted, at least generally, but rarely think of it. Yet it opens a way of life that lasts forever. Life here will soon end for all of us, as we read daily in the death notices, or see at a funeral as the remains of someone we know is lying there lifeless and cold. That body must soon be buried, because decay sets in, so short is its life. If the grave were opened again sometime later we would find little left of that body which received so much attention in life, where its needs and desires, and its many pleasures and comforts were so sought after. So often are these fleshly desires our goal, too often even at the cost of the life of God in us, sin is committed and this most important life of all is destroyed. Repeatedly we endanger that divine life, and even drive it away in sin, seeking rather the goods of this body which will soon die and rot in the grave, instead of those of the soul which will live. The grim reality of judgment by God, with its eternal consequences of Heaven or hell is seldom faced and little prepared for. The world is so fleeting, so temporal, and so unable to satisfy our true needs. The greatest goods it has to offer are only a weak reflection of eternal goods in Heaven. Earthly goods come from Him Who is infinite Good. If there is any good on earth, it can only come from Him Who made it good and then He must be infinitely more good. What fools then men must be to forget about Him Who created all goods: What fools men must be to spend a lifetime here seeking more and more of these limited goods and rarely thinking about, much less seeking properly, the goods which last forever.
"He remembers that we are but flesh, a breath that goes out and does not return" . But what happens in death? What of this unknown beyond. us? Of course we know that this body stops functioning and rots away not long after. All signs of life cease immediately, breathing stops and the organs of the body stop their work. This is the obvious part; everyone sees. But is that all there is? What happens to the rest of human nature, that which is not so obvious to onlookers? While the body rots in the grave as any animal, what happens to the rest? Man can do things which an animal cannot do, such as reasoning, speaking, writing, expressing ideas, spiritual actions; therefore he must be more than a mere animal. There must be in man something at least as spiritual as these spiritual actions mentioned. With the body only, we are merely animal with only animal powers. The great many works of music, architecture, philosophy, literature and the many intricate works of man, could then never be. Then too there could never be a life after death, for all life would cease at death.
But we know there is a soul from constant experience with it, as well as by divine revelation, and that it is spiritual, so its life goes on after the body dies. This reality which we know by experience, as well as from divine revelation, is called the soul. What happens to the soul in death? Since it is spiritual it does not die as animals which are material die, or the body dies, but lives on, in fact normal death does not affect the soul at all. Our mind and will are both spiritual, and of the soul, as are their actions. So our consciousness with all that we are and have learned remains; our free will with its choosing, its loves and its hates, also lives on; the personality which was ours in life lives on with its attitudes and inclinations. So, by far the most important part of our being is not affected by death, but remains as it was. Things which are of the body die with it, as do our appetites, our passions and sensations. But our soul lives on and it is far more important, it lives forever.
Death then is a separation of body and soul leading to the destruction of the body. The soul loses its usual means of expression and its normal tool for learning, i.e., its bodily senses and powers. But that which we had learned and experienced before, remains ours, and what we had done before is done for all time and remains on our record. Our consciousness becomes far more clear. Almighty God supplies for the lack of that most useful tool, the body, and we continue without it more active than before. The life of the soul goes on without any interruption. The general behaviour and attitudes, loves and hates, that we have acquired and practiced before, remain ours and we will face our divine Judge with all that on our record, with our deeds, with all that we have made ourselves to be by our own free choice. If we have practiced hatred towards our fellow men, that evil remains ours. If we have had habits of sloth, especially in practices of Faith, that same laziness and indifference will remain. If we have regularly filled our minds and imaginations with lustful thoughts, our minds and wills remain locked in that evil. If we have filled our lives with constant seeking after material goods and amassing more wealth, that evil love and false 'god' will still be our great all-possessing goal in eternity. So it will be with every virtue and vice, every good and evil of life here. That which we have made our lives to be while we were here on earth, united in soul and body, will remain after death, in our souls, part of our being, and with this we will have to face our divine and infinite Judge. By our earthily loves, by our decisions, we make ourselves what we finally end up to be. That which we love forms us, or again, we become that which we love, as we work and sacrifice for it. But God loves us and has sacrificed much for us and even brings us into existence out of love for us and for the plans and goals which He has for us. How have we loved Him?!
So death brings us the moment to truth, the terrible meeting with our Creator, with Our Judge, Our God, the infinite Good, the Author of all Truth. Suddenly the earth which seemed so solid and sure, which preoccupied so much of our time and attention before, literally fades away before true reality. All at once we see through and beyond this world of material as though curtains were being drawn back. It then becomes so unimportant to us; all of its worries, fears, needs, hopes and plans do not matter anymore. Suddenly we see this world for what it really is, a mere veil standing before the great reality, a curtain in front of true life and Being. Everything here at best is only a vague shadow and imitation of that true life with God and of Heaven. The brightest lights here are dim by comparison with this divine light. There is really a wonderful, beautiful light waiting for us just beyond the darkness of this world, like nothing on this earth. "There was a man, one sent from God, whose name was John. This man came as a witness, to bear witness concerning the light, that all might believe through him. He was not himself the light, but was to bear witness to the light. It was the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world" (Jn. I: 6-9). This light is not a mere figure of speech, but a really wonderful, unearthly, light which is very bright and filled with all delights. So as our bodily eyes and the rest of our bodily senses grow weak and cease to function, and when everything is ending, or so it appears to onlookers, a great new light and a new awareness of truest reality overwhelms one.
This is the first step only, and it is an awakening to a whole new world of great wonders, all of which were hidden from us before. Here we will know directly and immediately, without words and languages. This light is so beautiful. it can only be described as the light of glory. The wonders of this supernatural light and life with it then begin to come over us; a life in this glory that is far, far greater than all that ever was here on earth. Now the actual poverty, the darkness, the weakness, and the foolishness of all this world has to offer is obvious. There is a great new opening up of brilliant light, a wonder that far surpasses all we ever dreamed of, as the splendor of God's presence begins to appear. All at once we see, with eyes of our mind, and we see an unbelievable new world that is so great we are lost in wonder, and already it brings tears of joy of our bodily eyes, even in the state of near death, as we learn from those who experience it. "The splendor of God will be as light" (Roman Breviary).
Then we see another great marvel, far greater yet, and it is that God has been very near all the time, at arm's length, so to speak, right before us all through life, so near it would seem we could have reached out and touched Him; so near that He certainly was with us all the while on earth, observing our actions, passing judgment on them, and awaiting patiently for our love and service. All the while He was holding out His supporting hands to us, waiting for us to take them. And this is only the beginning of our introduction to the divine presence: only the beginning of our true awareness of God and eternity.
Then the second step begins, and with it a very serious problem appears. The modern mind would like to believe every man will immediately enter into glory; but what really happens? The great moment and confrontation of our life is at hand. All we are and have made ourselves to be by our own free choice is how we stand before Him Who contains all wonders. He gave us freedom to choose, to act as we wanted, even helped us with His graces, so we are totally responsible for what we have become. The divine justice is absolute, perfect and infinite and the time for judgment has come. So as we are, we come before such a terrible Judge, and into His presence with all His divine perfections and wonders of every imaginable kind, and many which we never even dreamed of, in the splendor of His presence which is so brilliant, so pure and beautiful. But coming into this wonder is a terrible sinner, ourselves, lowly, earthbound, materialistic, selfish, lacking in true love for God, and neighbor whom God loves and has created; we are so full of excessive love for creatures of God, in place of Him their Creator. Here we stand; the creature whose treasures, wealth and property, whose 'gods' are on earth. But the earth has been left far behind and left with it are all its treasures, which we held so dear. We who are impure because of earth's impurities, come before the God Who is absolutely pure, free of all defilement of earth, a Pure Spirit, Who is absolutely, infinitely good. We the speck of dirt come before the God of all: the untold wonders of God before a foolish sinful man.
What can be our reaction to this pure light and presence of total goodness? How uncomfortable, how fearful we must be. Is the divine judgment comes the sinner is already seeking a way to escape this terrifying perfection. The sinner knows only too well he does not belong in that presence. Here is all love, all goodness and all truth; and before it we stand, too often sadly lacking in these perfections. Before this true God of infinite perfection we stand totally exposed, naked in our own sad state. Picture the terrible contrast; the infinite and sublime in God on the one hand, and the foolish and the sinful in us on the other hand. The light of such a terrible contrast cannot be endured. There is only one recourse, and that, like Adam and Eve after their sin, is to flee, to seek a place where this glaring light of perfection is not found. We have been created for God, for eternal union with Him, and can find only there the fulfillment of all our wishes, our desires and our needs. He has been the true good behind all we always desired, yet He is so far above these, our earthly goods, that we do not fit in His company, we do not belong in His divine presence.