November 2, 2014 click on left end of black bar to play-pause
November 2, 2014
Fr. George Smiga
The great cathedral in Milan, Italy, sits on a wide plaza. You can enter the church through three massive doors. Above each door there is an inscription. The inscription on the door to the left reads, “What pleases lasts but a moment.” The inscription on the door to the right reads, “What troubles lasts but a moment.” The inscription on the great central door reads, “It is the eternal that matters.” The architect of this church was trying to convey that most of the joys and sorrows of our lives pass rather quickly. It is the eternal that is important, for the eternal goes on forever.
Now usually when we think of the eternal we imagine what happens after death, eternal life with God. Although this is certainly true, today’s gospel makes clear that such an understanding is incomplete. In the gospel, Martha and Jesus are discussing life in light of the death of Martha’s brother, Lazarus. Martha believes that her brother will rise again in the future, on the last day. Jesus corrects her. Jesus certainly believes that there will be a resurrection on the last day, but he insists that he is the resurrection and the life. Jesus knows that the eternal is important, but he teaches that the eternal can start before death for those who have faith in him.
So in what sense does the eternal start now? What are the actions that have an eternal quality that go on forever? I would suggest two to you: sacrifice and thanksgiving. When we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of another, when we give of ourselves in a way that makes a difference in the life of someone else, there is something eternal in our action. When we witness the way that a parent loves his or her child, the way that a child cares for his aging parent, or the way time and energy is spent to correct something that is wrong in our school, neighborhood, or world, those actions are not just for a moment. There is something in that kind of giving that goes on and flows into eternity. Sacrificing for the sake of love is one of the things that matter.
So is thanksgiving. When we truly appreciate what we have received, how we have been blessed, when we see how we have been loved by a spouse, by a friend or by our God, that kind of thankfulness not only humbles us but lifts us up. It is not a feeling for a moment, but it both anticipates and actuates the eternal love of God that will surround us forever. Thanksgiving in its deepest sense is eternal.
How do I know that sacrifice and thanksgiving are eternal? I know because those are the things that matter to those who are close to death. When I visit people in the last hours of their lives, they do not focus on the joys and sorrows that have passed long ago. What is important to them is how they have given for the sake of another and how they are loved by their family, by their friends, and by God. These are the things that are important. For those on the very edge of life, sacrifice and thanksgiving are eternal.
So today as we remember our beloved dead who we believe are already in the presence and glory of God, it is good for us to recommit ourselves to what matters. We should rededicate ourselves to give in sacrificial love to others and to live a life in thanksgiving for all that we have received. Of course in faith we believe that one day we will join our beloved dead in heaven. But there is nothing wrong in living our lives in such a way that eternity begins today.