[This is] man's essential situation, the situation that gives rise to all his contradictions and hopes: in some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven. We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for. This unknown “thing” is the true “hope” which drives us, and at the same time the fact that it is unknown is the cause of all forms of despair and also of all efforts, whether positive or destructive, directed towards worldly authenticity and human authenticity. The term “eternal life” is intended to give a name to this known “unknown”. Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion. “Eternal”, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; “life” makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it.
To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality—this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy. This is how Jesus expresses it in
Gospel: “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (). We must think along these lines if we want to understand the object of Christian hope, to understand what it is that our faith, our being with Christ, leads us to expect. Saint John's
Spe Salvi 12
Reflection - When my alarm clock went off at 6.00 this morning, my first waking thought was, ‘Well, I had a different alarm clock this time last year.’Last year on November 2, my mother died at I had been up with her the night previous, and had gone to bed at 4.00 somehow not expecting to be awoken two hours later by my niece’s frantic cries of distress when mom stopped breathing.
I have been at many a death bed, but somehow (I guess it’s always the way when it’s one of your own) missed the signs of imminent death in my mother.
So my mother died on All Souls—appropriate enough day, I guess. And I’ve been pondering her, my father who died a few years earlier, and the rest of my aunts and uncles who have all gone beyond that mysterious threshold over the past few years—the last of the aunts (save one by marriage) dying just two months ago.
Death! We don’t like thinking about it, and yet there it is, looming for all of us. The great mystery, the great sorrow, the great darkness that surrounds the end of our life. And yet, as Ambrose said two blog posts ago, death is what saves us from life.
We know, mostly, if we are honest, that we are not really happy here, not for long, not securely. Even the happiness we do enjoy, which is real and intense at times, gives way to the ravages of age and time, the failure of the body and the loss of so much that we love.
And so death comes to us as this enemy/friend/mystery/answer/darkness/light/sorrow/hope for joy unending. We don’t quite know what to do with it; we don’t like it much, yet we know, a bit, or hope, a bit, that death closes one door only to open another.
‘Eternal life’ – as the Pope readily admits, a woefully inadequate word. What is this thing we hope for, we head for, we cry out for? To open our eyes and look on love, to open our eyes and find our eyes being met by the eyes, the face, the beauty, the One who our hearts have cried out for, searched for, never quite found, or found for a brief moment—this is eternal life.
To be caught up in the mystery of love that breaks through all barriers, illumines all darkness, and sweeps away all confusion and ignorance in one act of joyous jubilant affirmation—this is eternal life.
And this is the life I long for, not only for myself, but for my mother, my father, my aunts and uncles, all my beloved MH brothers and sisters gone ahead… and for all of us, too. Happy All Souls Day to you – may we all be caught up by our divine Lover, and so live forever in beauty and joy.