I was blessed to have a wonderful, wise spiritual director for many years. She was both a delightful person and a spiritual powerhouse. She offered many insights during our time together, but the one which impacted my spiritual life most came in the form of a question: “What difference does that make in the light of eternity?” This was a creative way to encourage discernment, to suggest that whatever I chose needed to lead me toward God, not away. It also was a great way of keeping things in perspective, balanced, with an emphasis on what is truly important, rather than trivial. This is important for consideration right now because of the added stress and tension in our everyday living. We are in a pandemic, have had natural disasters, and there are many justice issues that require immediate attention. Unfortunately, however, there are people suggesting that we are nearing the end of the world: indeed, there are books and articles about this, even one from a priest who suggested all sorts of ‘evidence,’ his priesthood somehow lending ‘credibility’ to the claim. Every age in history has been fraught with difficulties and calamities; this is not new. Therefore, we must remember to weigh everything in the light of eternity, that is, in the light of the Eternal One, God, and what He and He alone revealed when He sent Jesus. Everything we do should be directed in this way, no matter when He returns, whether it is to everyone at once or when we individually go to Jesus at the end of our natural earthly life. In other words, Christians should always live lives directed toward entering Heaven when we are done here on earth. We should live every day with a mind toward eternity.
Christians have been concerned about the Second Coming of Christ from the get-go; Jesus had only been dead and risen about 20 years when this issue cropped up. In the earliest written New Testament document, the First Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul dealt with the misunderstanding the community had, that is, the mistaken belief that Jesus would return during their lifetime. Paul clarified the issue by reminding them that Jesus would indeed fulfill His promise to return, but that He had said no one would know the day or hour. * Paul wrote, “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…. Therefore… let us stay alert and sober.” (1 Thess 5:1,6) In essence Paul was reminding them not to needlessly worry, but instead to live in the light of eternity: to be ‘alert and sober’ is to live the teachings of Jesus so as to be prepared for the time when we do enter into Heaven.
At the end of his ministry Jesus offered three parables to illustrate what we should do to be prepared. (Matthew 25) The Parable of the Ten Virgins teaches about living our lives with mercy, generosity, and love. Jesus indicated that the wise virgins were the ones who were ready when the bridegroom unexpectedly showed up. The oil in their lamps was the graces they had ‘gathered’ through their works of mercy, something which could not be divvied out to the ones who never prepared and were not living in the light of eternity. In The Parable of the Talents, the wise are described as those who build up the Kingdom of God, growing in holiness as they share their faith, ‘making interest on what they have been given.’ Finally, in the third story, The Judgment of the Nations, Jesus described exactly what one must do to build the kingdom while growing in holiness: give food to the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned and ill, and welcome the stranger. In short, we will be judged on the quality of our love. If we are doing the best we can, (which does not mean that we have to be perfect), we have nothing to fear. This is what it means to live in the light of eternity.
We should live every day with a mind toward eternity while remembering that life is a gift. This means that we should not be in a hurry to get to Heaven or to read all the so-called signs which render us unnecessarily terrified. Eternal life with God is what we aspire to; messages which make getting there something to fear, however, cannot be of God because fear leads to a focus on self rather than on God. Living with a mind toward eternity means that we utilize the gift of life with humility and gratitude. If we are able, we can savor the gift of life by giving what we can, working for justice by being just, working for peace by being peaceful, treating all life from conception to natural death with reverence, working to help the poor by offering whatever small acts of kindness we can give, and so on. If we are suffering, ill, or unable to participate in much, we can accept the kindness of others as a way of living with humility and gratitude: it is a kindness to accept kindness. In treating life as the gift that it is, we will indeed be living with a mind toward the light of eternity, just as Jesus has taught.
May we continually discern our choices in order to live with a mind toward the light of eternity! May we learn to distinguish between that which leads toward unity, life, and God, and that which leads toward division, fear, and self! May we prepare for eternal life by offering our time, talent, and treasure to help those in need! And may our lives be signs of hope to those who feel hopeless and of love to those who feel forgotten! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* Jesus made it quite clear that there would be false messiahs claiming to ‘read the signs’ about when the world would end. Jesus said we should not listen to them: “But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Matthew 24:4-30; 36-44)
1. My photo, sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, Biloxi, Mississippi.
2. Icon, The Second Coming of Christ The King by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you wish to obtain a copy of this or any other icons or images from Fr. Bill's work you can find this one at fineartamerica.com/featured/the-second-coming-of-christ-the-king-149-william-hart-mcnichols.html. (Remember, I do not get any remuneration for posting how to obtain copies of Fr. Bill's work: it is solely for the joy of sharing.)
3. Painting, The Parable of the 10 Virgins by Phoebe Anna Traquair. This is found at Mansfield Traquair Church, Edinburgh, Scotland.
4. My photo, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado near Estes Park.
5. Painting, Soliel by Vincent van Gogh.
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