Planning for our eternal future with Christ
“O God, who on this day, through your Only Begotten Son, have conquered death and unlocked for us the path to eternity, grant we pray that we who keep the Lord’s Resurrection may, through the renewal brought by your Spirit, rise up in the light of life.”
These words from the Mass on Easter morning began this beautiful season of light, life, and joy. They remind us of God’s love for us, and His desire, through the Passion and death of Jesus, to share with us the eternal life in which He lives. In the beauty of this season, I wish you all a blessed Easter.
Watching the evening news, we often see an advertisement which encourages planning for retirement. We get rosy pictures of beach houses and exotic trips and a promise that, if we just call up that particular company, we are well on our way to enjoying the life pictured in the ads. The advertisers probably know that most of us will not be able to save enough for a future of such comfort and wealth, but they will take our money even if our goals are more modest. In the end, the advertisers want us all focused on the need to plan for the future.
What these advertisements promise for a future retirement, however, only affects our life on earth. The future we celebrate in Easter is altogether different. In this case, we are not just thinking of an IRA or the 401K plan, or the best age to begin taking Social Security. We are planning for eternal life, life lived with God. The prayers and readings of Easter beautifully tell us that death is not the end. Easter opens our way to eternal life. They remind us that we do have a future, one lasting far longer than any retirement plan. How are we planning for that?
In our culture today, it seems to me we have a vague notion about the identity of God and what it means to speak of eternal life. In a recent lecture, I learned something of the thinking of some of our young. They believe that there is a God, but He is a distant figure who may help us when we have a need. God wants people to be happy and, therefore, as long as we try to be good, we all go to heaven. In this way of thinking, God is a detached figure. He is, for the most part, not actively present in the lives of people. He is not a person.
The God we meet at Easter is not a distant or detached figure. He is a loving Father who passionately loves His children. And, as a loving Father, He cares about the way they live. Separated from them by the sin of Adam and Eve, the Father sends His Son to reconcile His children with Him. Jesus’ death on Good Friday was real. He suffered and He died for our sins. But that is not the end of the story. Jesus rose again on Easter morning. And, with His resurrection comes the promise of life for all who follow Him.
To follow Him means to live like Him. The way we live our lives affects the ability we have to find ourselves in heaven when we die. In this regard, we might remember one story from Good Friday. Two men were also crucified with Jesus. In the course of their mutual agony, one of them asks Jesus for mercy: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In the darkness and suffering of that day, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise.” It is the repentance of the man we now call the “Good Thief” that makes possible Jesus’ mercy toward him. The thief asks for forgiveness. What he has done in life was wrong. Jesus forgives him and promises him life eternal.
Our Father is merciful. He wants us all to be with Him. But He also respects the person He has created. We are free. Freedom means we can make our own choices. But we are also responsible for those choices. Our loving Father respects our choices, He respects our freedom. He loves us enough to allow us to choose to live apart from Him for all eternity. The life we live today makes a difference in the life we live when we die.
During this Easter season, it might be good for us to think of how we are preparing for our eternal future, not just retirement. As I say, it is more important than just making sure our pension plan is working for us.
The catechism question of old asked, “Why did God make us?” The response: “To know, love, and serve Him in this world and be happy with Him in the next.”
Easter and its promise of eternal life brings joy. It shows us the abundance of God’s love and mercy. His love is so great that He allows us the freedom to choose to return His love and live as Jesus shows us. Or live as we wish. The Risen Jesus, light of the world, shows us, in His life how to know, love, and serve God. Following Him should be our plan for the future.
Most Rev. Robert P. Deeley
12th Bishop of Portland