No, I’m not predicting the end of the world. If anything can be called a universal failure, it has been every attempt to predict the end of the world. But in a sense I am predicting the end of your world, and of mine. For if anything can be called a universal success, it is the assertion that each of us will die.
Ever since Laura died, I’ve been thinking more about death, about Heaven (about Hell, too, I suppose), and about preparing for the Kingdom. This is really the life’s work of each of us who aspires to an everlasting life of happiness. But how can I express the urgency of this work without sounding like a nut, like a bearded fanatic holding a sign? How can I stem the tide of the wholesale rejection of belief in the afterlife and of the righteous judgment of God?
I guess all I can do is ground myself in the word of God, which also sees our salvation as the only ultimately essential thing. St Paul urges us to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are of earth” (Col. 3:1-2). What does he mean by exhorting us not to set our minds on “things that are of earth”? After all, our daily lives cannot but be immersed in things of earth, for we are on earth. He explains: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry… put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk.” So then, in this context what is “earthly” is the opposite of what is heavenly. It is that which deflects us from our advance toward the Kingdom.
We can fruitfully enjoy earthly things only insofar as they are reflections of heavenly things: the beauty and the joy that give us a hint of Paradise, that bring us closer to Him who created us and who loves us. But our focus is still to be Heaven, where Christ reigns in glory with his Father. Thus our lives have to be lived in such a way as to constitute a preparation for Heaven. The things we devote our time and thought and energy to must in some way contribute to our progress toward our heavenly goal. Anything that proves an obstacle to this progress must be overcome. This is so important that Paul says we must put to death anything that takes us away from Christ and the “things that are above.”
Through baptism we have mystically died with Christ, and we carry this saving truth within us. “You have died,” asserts the Apostle, “and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” We “die” to this world, that is, the world is not our goal, our life, our reason of being. Our life has another Source, another Center, another Goal. Therefore the claims that this world can make on our lives are necessarily limited. We belong to another world, “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” But even before we fully and definitively enter that world at our death, our present lives are “hidden with Christ in God.” We live with Him in faith and love, we walk according to his word, we draw life from communion with Him through prayer and sacrament. We are hidden with Him, while the world goes its godless and hedonistic way. Our minds are set on things of Heaven, while we work out our salvation here on Earth. This mystery–looking toward Heaven while living on an often unheavenly Earth–is expressed succinctly in a passage from a poem of Pope John Paul II: “I wander on the narrow pavement of this earth/ not turning aside from Your Countenance/ unrevealed to me by the world” (“Hope Reaching Beyond the Limit”).
Time passes, our energies become depleted, we age, we approach death. The end is near, relatively so at least, for all of us. It may be much nearer than we think. It is time to see whether we are really preparing for the Kingdom, setting our minds and hearts on things of Heaven—or if we are still engaged in earthly (that is, sinful, according to the above context) pursuits and activities. Nothing is more important than that our lives be hidden with Christ in God while we are on Earth. There will come a time when all that is hidden will be revealed. We are called to live our lives hidden with Him, looking with faith and hope for his coming Kingdom, so that “when Christ, who is our life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4).