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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Yearning for Life and Happiness

We do not want to die. Okay, I know that some would object to this statement, but opposing sentiments are usually the exception. These exceptions are generally aberrations due to some form of suffering. We have all heard of suicide victims due to mental illness and depression, emotional trauma, excessive physical pain and handicap, and delusion (as in certain cults). In all these cases there is a running away from something (pain or anxiety) or a fleeing toward something (a higher plain of existence or some other such alternative). The latter comes close to the Christian hope, although with one essential difference, true faith defends the dignity and sacredness of all life, here and now.

Our desire for life is joined with a natural longing for happiness and a supernatural yearning for reconstitution and union. Thoughts of heaven are often filled with joyful images. It is associated with the festivity of a wedding banquet. We will be eternally happy. We will know the peace that the world can only dream about. All our analogies pale in comparison to what awaits us. Popular religion often envisions peaceful angels playing harps while sitting on soft clouds. It is a cute picture, but the reality we anticipate as Catholics is more complex. We want to live forever, but not at all costs. That is why the contrary image of hell is ever so frightful. Instead of happy images, popular piety views it as a dark abode of stifling smoke, eternal flame, and agonizing pain. Again, this is very interesting, but here too, the Catholic contribution would go much further. Why is there joy in heaven and pain in hell?

When we attempt to answer that question, our view of life after death becomes much more mature and realistic. Those who opt for hell, despite the irrationality of it, have mysteriously chosen it. A good God will not force his children to be happy and so he honors this choice. This is the most frightful freedom given to us, the ability to embrace or to reject the God for whom we were fashioned. Unlike the Seventh Day Adventists and similar groups, we do not believe that the dead momentarily pop out of existence or sleep or become unconscious. They are alive. However, the eternal life promised by Christ refers not merely to continued existence beyond the grave but to a participation in the life of God. This is first made possible in this world through faith, the sacraments, and the grace of God. Thus, the elect of God, despite difficult bouts with sin and the need for constant forgiveness, already in this world walk with one foot in the next.

We believe that the souls of the dead, commonly called ghosts, pass from this world into heaven or hell. That journey to heaven may take them through a period of purgation, a time of cleansing in which our prayers are most beneficial for them. While hell signifies eternal frustration and both a hatred of God and self; heaven is understood primarily as the abode of God. Christ has promised a room in his Father’s house to those who love God.

The life of heaven implies perfection into the likeness (holiness) of God. We are not only completely healed from the lingering effects of sin, but grace builds upon nature making us something greater than if left to ourselves. God fills that space in us that only he can make complete. There is union with God and with those who have gone before us. This reunion with our beloved dead is a principal element of our expectation for the life of heaven. Every loss has wounded us. Every death has reduced us. This is given back in heaven. The stagnant image of heaven and eternal life, so prevalent in popular Christian culture, would never satisfy. The finite creature can never exhaust the mystery of an infinite Creator. Heaven allows an exploration into God himself that will never know final resolution. Heaven is endless discovery and satisfaction. By comparison, everything we know now fails quickly to satisfy. Mortal life is short and often filled with disappointments, hurts, and loss. While we are promised a full restoration, body and soul; like our glorified Lord, we will know the wondrous everlasting fruits of his victory over suffering, sin, and death.

There is an irony today regarding our desire for life and happiness as compared to our society in the grips of a culture of death. Our preoccupation with our own personal lives and transitory pleasure seeks to disfigure what life is really about. Many who claim a faith affiliation live and act as if this existence is all there is. When this life becomes difficult, increasing numbers want the option of euthanasia. Quality of life decisions and careers often take precedence over the lives of the unborn, leading to millions and millions of abortions. Many are advocating infanticide for those children deemed defective, as if a handicapped life has no worth, and creating too great a burden upon us. The new deity of science is holding out the prospect of longer lives through DNA manipulation and the harvesting of body parts from clones designated as non-persons. It may sound like Science Fiction, but the brave new world is rushing upon us and the dignity of human life may very well be a casualty.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.