'Focusing on the reality' of Life after life

by Jeff Hedglen

5/15/2015

McKenzie McDonald, 2, reacts to several lighted candles while being held by her grandmother Yvonne Oliveria, during this year's Easter Vigil at Holy Family Catholic Church in Fort Worth. (Photo by Ben Torres / NTC)

It constantly amazes me how much there is to learn about the Catholic Faith. After 30 years in full-time ministry, a master’s degree, and years of Bible study I feel like I am just scratching the surface. 

This hit home for me at the funeral for the 19-year-old son of a friend of mine. The Gospel reading for the Mass was the story of Mary and Martha mourning the loss of their brother Lazarus. I have heard the story more times than I can count and have studied it quite in-depth numerous times, but one of the main points of the homily revealed a truth about this story that I had never known.

Father Hector Medina was celebrating Mass, and he spent a good amount of his homily talking about one word from this line of the Gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Interestingly enough, the word he spent the most time on at this funeral was the word “life.”

He explained that when we hear this word we think of the life we live on earth, our physical or biological life, but that is not the meaning of the Greek word that is used in this passage. The Greek word for life that we see here is Zoe, which means the eternal life of God, the divine life uniquely possessed by God, literally life that goes beyond the biological.

As I reflected on this idea I was reminded that we are not created solely for this world, in fact, our destiny is to die and to be born into eternal life. And while, in my mind I know this, in my heart and daily practice of life and faith, this idea rarely comes to mind.

When Jesus says that He “came so that we might have life and have it more abundantly,” He was not talking about a great house, a big family, a nice job, and fancy vacations (John 10:10). Rather, He was talking about this other idea of what life is — a life beyond the bounds of the biological. I really wish this truth could be more at the forefront of my personal spiritual life.

We are an Easter people. The Resurrection of Jesus is the core of all our beliefs as Catholics. If Jesus does not rise from the dead, our faith means nothing, the sacraments are empty symbols, the Mass is a fruitless ritual, and life ends with biological death. But the power of the Resurrection, which we continue to celebrate in this Easter season and, in fact, never lose sight of in the liturgical year, is the focal point of our entire life. Yet, we often spend little or no time contemplating what the Resurrection means for our lives.

Yes, the Resurrection of Jesus impacts our ultimate destination, but it also hugely affects every twist and turn of our life as we journey to the beatific vision. Pope Francis in his daily audience April 3 last year, said that the Resurrection of Jesus “leads us to living our everyday lives more confidently, to facing each day courageously and with commitment. Christ’s Resurrection shines new light on our everyday realities. Christ’s Resurrection is our strength!”

Who amongst us does not need more strength to love the people in our lives, to forgive those who have hurt us, to meet the demands of our daily duties at work and at home, to deal with illness, sadness, pain, and suffering, to let go of resentments, grudges, and hatred, to find our way to our knees in prayer or to the church for Mass or Adoration, to focus on others’ needs instead of our own, and ultimately, to love God and neighbor more deeply, fully, and completely?  

If we could do even one of these things just a bit better, our lives could take one more step beyond the earth-bound biological, and into the heavenly realm where life goes beyond life as we know it.

It constantly amazes me how much there is to learn about the Catholic Faith. After 30 years in full-time ministry, a master’s degree, and years of Bible study I feel like I am just scratching the surface. This hit home for me at the funeral for the 19-year-old son of a friend of mine. The Gospel reading for the Mass was the story of Mary and Martha mourning the loss of their brother Lazarus.

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