Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

In time for eternity

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas: The mystery of God’s only begotten Son taking on human nature over 2,000 years ago places this temporal world in an eternal frame. Belief in an afterlife that lasts forever is, at best, a guess unless we have contact with a God whose existence is without beginning and without end. Life with such a God is eternal, even when he enters time. Contact with Jesus, through the grace that makes us participants in his life, is a pledge of our own eternal life.

Christian faith tells us first of heaven before it speaks of earth. We believe in a God whose kingdom is, finally, not of this world. Without the certainty of eternal life, why should one remain for life in a marriage that is troubled, why would one vow celibacy for the sake of God’s kingdom, why would one die rather than deny the faith? People with no faith in God will still sacrifice for their children or even for their country, because these assure them a kind of “immortality” in this world, even after their personal death; but the sacrifice called for by Christian faith presupposes that our life here is framed by a conviction that our true life is yet to come.

A thirst for eternity gives added depth to life in time. It can bring joy even in the suffering that is part of every life here. It tells us that funerals are more than “celebrations” of the life of the departed, as if we had to go to elaborate lengths to fool ourselves into imagining that death without the “bright promise of immortality” were anything but testimony to sound and fury signifying nothing, to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Hamlet. If we are only products of Mother Nature, the grave is our eternal home; but if Mother Church introduces us to Jesus here, we know that we will live forever.

In Jesus, the celebration of whose birth we are now approaching again this year, eternity enters into time and becomes present to us. We hear the Gospel stories and imagine a familiar presence, that of a newborn baby. We consult our faith and realize that that same baby, whose body has risen from the dead, is really present still under the forms of bread and wine in the Eucharist. When we receive Christ’s now immortal body in Holy Communion, our own still mortal bodies take to themselves the seeds of immortality. Eternity is truly present at each Eucharist.

The Spirit of God, active in the affairs of this world, especially through the ministries of the church, keeps the thirst for eternity alive in us. In dark times and sometimes faced with the darkness of our own deeds, we can look forward to moving out of the shadows of this life into an existence after death that we believe in even if we cannot describe it. We are like babies in their mother’s womb, unable yet to imagine the beauty of life after birth.

At Christmas, we thank God for our Savior and his mother, the Virgin Mary; and we are grateful as well for the gifts of this life, for our families and friends and for the many ways, small and large, that our life here is enriched. Part of our gratitude arises from our belief that, because of our relation to God in Christ, none of the good things of this life will be lost. They too are attached to eternity because they are part of our lives now.

How terribly senseless it must be to live totally immersed in the things of this world. It is like whistling in the dark, hiding from oneself the horizon of eternity that becomes visible for all in Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary. He is in time for eternity, born here to bring us to the hereafter. This Christmas, take time, with those you love, to touch eternity in him.