Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What Does Not Pass Away


Christianity promises that what has transpired on this earth will be eternal. Nothing of what is precious and valuable to us will be lost… this final and abiding world will be the fulfillment of this earth of ours.

Dogma and Preaching, 117

Reflection – There is a persistent belief about Christianity that turns at least some people away from it. Namely, there is an idea that to have heaven as the goal of life makes us indifferent towards or ineffective in addressing the problems of life on earth. There is a sense that Christian hope in eternal life leads to passivity in the face of injustice or suffering and a sort of retreat into a comfortable world of fairy tales and pie-in-the-sky fantasy.

That this persistent belief flies in the face of all known historical facts about Christians and their actual behavior over the course of 2000 years has done little to discredit it. After all, it seems logical: if all our energies are exerted towards some other world why spend time and resources improving this one?

That Christians have, by and large over 2000 years, fed the hungry, cared for the sick, clothed the naked, taught the ignorant, and so forth is passed over in silence. That Christian Europe developed the principles and methodologies of modern science in the very heart of what are now called the ‘Dark Ages’, invented the university, built up a system of law and the theory of universal human rights, and in general produced a flourishing of art, music, architecture and literature is largely forgotten. We are not taught history in our schools, generally, and the little history we are taught is grossly unreliable on this point.

In fact, if any charge could be credibly laid at the door of Christianity, particularly in its Western European and North American forms, it would be that of worldliness, a too practical and utilitarian approach to the question of how one is to live in the present age and engage in its needs and problems.

No, the charge that Christianity makes us indifferent to the problems of the world is unsustainable on the historical record alone. And this quote from Ratzinger explains why it fails on logical grounds, too.

Namely, heaven and earth are not hermetically sealed compartments from each other. Our life here on earth, our choices, the good we do, the services we render, and on a deeper level the love we carry within ourselves, the true embrace of the good and the beautiful here and now—all of this somehow becomes taken up into heaven, becomes part of the life of eternity.

Tomorrow is Ascension Thursday, although in many parts of the world the feast is shifted to Sunday. The whole movement of Christianity as we see it in this event of the Ascension is precisely this: that Jesus carries our humanity, his Incarnate being, his whole embrace of the human, the earthly, flesh and blood and all they hold, to the Father.

And as with the Head, so with the Body. Heaven has taken earth to itself, and so the earth matters tremendously. The world, its beauties and its woes matters tremendously. The earth and all within it is passing away, but heaven has bent down to earth in solicitude and compassion to bring into it that which does not pass away.

And what does not pass away is Love. And so Christianity, if it is lived properly, expresses itself in love for the world, in service, in compassion, in alleviation of suffering, in a pouring out of gifts and strength to make the world reflect the beauty, goodness, and truth of the One who made it and loved it and came down from heaven to share in its life.

And this is precisely what we see in those exemplary Christians who we call ‘saints’, and this is precisely what you and I are called to do today. So—let’s get cracking!