Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Life of the World to Come

Today we have one of the most beautiful images from John’s gospel: Jesus the Good Shepherd. Jesus assures us that through him, we can never be taken out of God the Father’s loving and caring hand, and that in Jesus we are given the great gift of eternal life.

It is Jesus himself who leads us to our destiny. As our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles puts it today, “All who were destined for eternal life came to believe.” Think about what that means—it’s not that we believe and then come to have eternal life, but that it is because God has destined us for salvation that we come to receive the gift of faith.

And God will lead us there. By the example of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit present in our hearts and minds, we are led along and through the paths and troubles of this life. But the work of the Good Shepherd also goes beyond this life. Not only are we led by Jesus here and now, but we are being led somewhere. There is a final destination in this journey, in the pilgrimage of this life. Our destiny, our destination, is heaven—eternal life with God. Heaven is the end, or purpose, of our lives and indeed of the whole of creation.

Now we Catholics, sometimes we don’t talk much about the end of the world. But we should! For one thing, we proclaim our belief in the final goal of the world each time we come together for the Sunday Eucharist. At the end of the creed we proclaim that we look forward to the vitam venturi saeculi, the “life of the world to come.” It’s not just that we are looking forward to a mysterious new heaven and earth, but to the new life that the Good Shepherd promises us today in the gospel.

For another thing, there are a lot of people out there preaching the end of the world, from the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the street, to the Left Behind books that have become so popular. Trouble is, at least as I hear them, a lot of times people who preach the end of the world are preaching revenge. It’s about how God will finally punish all of the sinners and vindicate all of us poor folks who trying so hard to do the right thing.

The heaven of our final destiny is not about revenge or taking rotten glee in how God will punish sinners, but about God’s overwhelming desire to save the world, about God’s overflowing desire to share the perfect joy of his own life with every single part of his creation.

In the second reading today, from the book of Revelation, we have a beautiful picture of what our eternal life in God will be like. There is no hunger of thirst, no tears, no anxiety. There is only the joy and love that is the perfect worship of God and of his Lamb, Jesus Christ. And, as one of the heavenly elders describes to John, the author of the book of Revelation, heaven is populated with those who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

That’s us, friends. It’s us in the very celebration of this Eucharist. In this life we wear the robe of the flesh; our bodies are the robes that express our hearts and souls in this world. And here at Mass we receive the blood of Christ into our bodies, the Precious Blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins.

The blood of Christ will wash our hearts and minds. We may have made our feelings dingy and our devotion shabby through our sins, but the blood of Christ will wash us clean that we may begin again in the newness of the Risen Life of Christ.

In this Eucharist the Lord washes and renews us, and we are made new and clean in the blood of the Lamb. And this is just a little taste of what it will be like for us in heaven, forever enjoying the “life of the world to come.” May we let this little foretaste of the perfect joy of heaven make us desire our final destiny all the more.

(4th Sunday of Easter, C)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of the things I really like about catholic apocalyptic literature is that it is not about revenge. Michael O'Brien's great novel "Fr. Elijah" is about the quest of the man sent by God to the antichrist to offer him reconciliation through the sacraments.

The risks that men take for peace is really high drama.