Living Forever

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My father, as he lay in his bed, slowly dying of cancer, said sadly to me “I thought I was going to live forever.” He had been converted at an evangelical event as a youth, and had spent his life being the best Christian he knew how to be. Now, as his earthly death approached, he felt somewhat abandoned by the God he had served so faithfully.

My first thought was along the line of “everybody dies – why should you be any different?” But that’s what the resurrection is all about. It’s a confusing subject, and is probably beyond our human understanding. We lack even the vocabulary to express what happens. To get around this, it is common to use comparisons. “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel…. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable…The dead will be raised imperishable.”

When we examine the scriptures, it speaks of eternal life and the resurrection, but it also clearly says our earthly bodies – unlike Christ’s – will be brought back to life not immediately, but on the last day. Eternal life, on the other hand, refers to the spiritual self. It is this spiritual self, the gift of God, which lives forever and is rejoined with the glorified earthly body on the last day.

The church defines life as God’s gift of created human life and explains that his divine life has been given to us as sanctifying grace. When Jesus speaks of “life,” he is referring to a share in his own divine Trinitarian existence. This existence becomes possible for those who respond to his invitation to turn away from sin and open their hearts to God’s abiding love.

We ourselves achieve eternal life when we are united with the holy Trinity. God’s gift begins with the “life” of faith and “new life” of Baptism; it is communicated in sanctifying grace and reaches perfection in the communion of life and love with the Holy Trinity in heaven. Each time we partake in the Eucharist, we are nourishing that life that resides within the earthly husk. It is eternal because this gift of life will last forever in the blessedness of heaven.

We are an Easter people. That means the resurrection is real for us every time we celebrate Mass. But it is not just Christ’s rising from the dead – it is rising of each one of us who has passed from this earthly existence to new life with God that we celebrate. Christ’s resurrection opened the way for us.

Poppa, the earthly body we knew as “you” did die and decay. Freed from its bindings, your divine life continued to exist, not just in my heart and mind, but with Christ in heaven. Your spirit – your divine being – has eternal life. You did not die, but will live forever.

Linda Crowley