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We Are Immortal
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The subject of our present talk is We Are Immortal. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of reflecting, even for a few minutes, on the facts that time was when we did not exist, but having come into being we shall never cease to exist. We began in time; we will live on for eternity.
We might remind ourselves that many of our contemporaries in the affluent United States in which we live think, act, and live as though this were the only life there is. In order to check my sources I found a passage in Sigmund Freud. A popular best seller, the books called The Psychopathology of Every Day Life. On page 259 he says, all people who believe in immortality are psychopaths.
Well, whatever they call us, we better know that we are not psychopathological. Centuries before Freud, in fact long even before the time of Christ, the inspired writer in the Book of Wisdom had this to say about those who now call us pathological. Its the second chapter of the Book of Wisdom. The whole chapter is about the wicked. Here is how they think. They said among themselves, thinking not aright, brief and troublous is our lifetime; neither is there any remedy for mans dying, nor is anyone known to have come back from the nether world. For haphazard were we born and here after we shall be as though we had not been because the breath of our nostrils is a smoke and reason is a spark at the beating of our hearts. And when this is quenched, our body will be ashes and our spirit will be poured abroad like unresisting air- unquotes, the Book of Wisdom. But how those think and behave who consider us not quite normal because we believe we are immortal.
What I would like to do briefly is first look at what we mean when we say that we are immortal and then more practically what are some of the implications of this most fundamental fact, I mean it, the most fundamental fact of our faith.
What is Immortality?
What is immortality? It means freedom from death or freedom from the capacity to decay or disintegrate. We might just to keep our vocabulary clear, distinguish three kinds of immortality, of God, of the angels and of ourselves. God is absolutely immortal. He has no body from which the soul can separate. But more important, His spirit is by its very nature, such as must exist.
Over the years of teaching theology I found the following to be the simplest and most identifying definition of God. God is the being who cannot not exist. God is therefore absolutely immortal. There must have been being, and the being who cannot not have been is God. That kind of immortality without beginning or end is possessed only by God. The angels are immortal, but unlike God they had a beginning but not having a body like us where there can be no separation of body from soul. They are we say, naturally immortal. We, we are immortal too, but watch this. In Gods original plan He wanted our bodies to be immortal, never to be separated from the soul which animates them. Bodily death is the price of sin. On that side we were, or lets say we were meant to have been immortal in body. In our bodies we are quite mortal. But our souls, the spirit created by God the moment we were conceived in our mothers womb, our souls like the nature of the angels cannot die. The essence of death is separation. The soul has no parts into which it can break or divide. The only way the soul could go out of existence would be for God to annihilate it. And that we believe, He will never do. We are therefore immortal naturally in our souls. But because God became man and died on the cross to redeem us, our bodies will be reunited with the soul and after the last day we will enjoy two kinds of immortality both of soul and of body.
Practical Implications for Our Daily Living Because We are Immortal
Now the implications: I thought I would stop at eight lest I go beyond my allotted time. What are some practical implications for our daily living of the fact that we are immortal?
First gratitude, to thank God daily for making us immortal. The microphones into which I am speaking, the glass of water in front of me, the animals, the trees do not have what we undeservedly possess because notice the immortality for which we should thank God is a conscious living enjoyable endless existence that God has in store for us. We are destined to be with Him, with the angels, the saints and our loved ones through all eternity. How Im looking forward to meeting the father that I never knew.
Second, our immortality gives us perspective. How we need perspective. To see everything in this life from the viewpoint of eternity, how unimportant how trifling the apparently big things in this life, especially the trials and hardships. Perspective like that of the saints already the novitiate they were told that Saint Aloysius used to keep asking himself, pardon the Latin Quid Hoc ad Aeternitatem? What relation has this to do with eternity? Does it help me to live in immortal happiness? Then no matter how heavy the price, Ill pay it. Oh how many souls Ive struggled with, how many priests, how many religious, how many husbands and wives. In Gods name I plead with them. Dont you see this is as nothing compared to the heaven for which youre made? Take it, keep taking it or give it up which usually has a masculine or feminine gender.
Second benefit of reflecting on our immortality is it gives us perspective, balance.
Third, patience. Patience in bearing the temporary difficulties of this life as a small price for the wonderful joy that awaits us. Some people spend their lives on earth running away from pain, lord what folly. Pain is a normal price for heavenly beatitude.
Fourth implication detachment from creatures. How attached we can be, I dont say to things that we possess, but would you believe it, even to impossible dreams. To our own judgment, our own opinion, learn to give up to let go because the dividends are high. We pay in terrestrial coin, the reward is eternal.
Fifth implication generosity. How we need to remind ourselves weve got a free will, a free will, a free will. We can give, we can give and we can give. You dont explain this; you believe it and I would add, you experience it.
Given what God has in store for us, realizing how good He has been to us, one of the main reasons by the way, why He allows us to make fools of ourselves by maybe years of sinful estrangement from His love, is that once we come to our senses well just stop bargaining with God. I repeat, we have it in us if we want to, to give God a little bit, or more or still more or still much more or everything. And the more we give Him now of ourselves, the more of Himself he will give for all eternity. It is a sobering thought to realize that once we die we can no longer merit anything. We will be as happy for all eternity as we have been generous up to the moment weve died.
Sixth implication - prayer. It is one thing to be told, or even to know, yes I am immortal. It is something else to behave like an immortal being walking the streets of this earth. We must pray and keep praying so that our vision of eternity will not be blurred. Blurred do I say, we can become blind hence the need for constant prayer. You know one reason why Christ restored sight to so many blind people of the gospels? Ill tell you why, to remind us that we are all blind and the single most fundamental prayer we can address to God is, Lord that I may see.
Seventh implication - restraint, control, especially of our bodies, knowing that our souls will live on and that our bodies will one day be glorified but only if in this life they have been mortified. Two words that belong together, our bodies are destined to be glorified only if this side of eternity they have been dually mortified.
Finally joy. There is such a thing as anticipating the joys of heaven by knowing for certain on faith and through hope that we shall possess God Himself in that eternal embrace which is the beatific vision, and in anticipation of what awaits us, we shall experience the joy of hope being sure that our hope is not deceived.
I still have a prayer to close with. Lord Jesus, you told us what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his own soul. Protect us from being deceived by those who are preoccupied with this life and oblivious of the life to come. Enlighten the eyes of our mind to see beyond the shadows of time into the endless reaches of eternity. Strengthen our wills to carry the burden you have placed on our shoulders and never complain, never to complain. For no matter what you tell us to endure, help us dear Lord to understand what your apostle meant when he said that the sufferings of this life are as nothing compared to the glory to be revealed in us. We look forward dear Jesus to living with you and the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen
In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Conference Transcription from a retreat that Fr. Hardon
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