I have a question after reading Fr. John’s meditation and prayer on a recent Sunday’s Gospel in The Better Part (26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, #208. Money and Fire (Luke 16:19-31). In the section Christ in my Life Fr. John writes, “I admit, it’s possible to get obsessed with the afterlife, but it would be a foolish traveler who kept moving ahead every day without ever thinking about his destination”
Is there something wrong with constantly keeping our eyes on heaven; with heaven being the most important thing to us on this earth? I understand that we can become too heavenly minded to be any earthly good; we must always be the hands, feet, mouth and heart of Jesus to others here on earth. But we are strangers here; heaven is our true and only home. So, yes, I am definitely obsessed with not just getting there, but with going to extreme measures to keep heaven in my heart!
In a culture where it’s considered “impolite” to so much as talk about our deep love of Christ in the workplace or with casual acquaintances, I think it would do the Church and society good for more of us to be obsessed with the afterlife!
I guess it all depends on what we mean by “obsessed.” Here is what I had in mind when I wrote the sentence that you quote in your question: “To turn now, brothers, to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ… Please do not get excited too soon or alarmed by any prediction or rumor or any letter claiming to come from us, implying that the Day of the Lord has already arrived…” (1 Thessalonians 2:3) I also had this in mind: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone… Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour” (Matthew 24:36; 25:13).
Throughout the history of the Church, there have been movements in which Christians became so concerned about the Lord’s Second Coming that they became blind to God’s will in the day-to-day battle of their lives. Instead of dedicating themselves to seeking holiness and building up Christ’s Kingdom in their circle of influence, they retreated into self-absorption. They reduced the entire Christian message to the End of the World and the imminent sufferings that would cause. This is what I meant by “obsessed.”
I think you mean something different by “obsessed.” You mean keeping the goal in mind, not being distracted from life’s mission by self-indulgence and trivialities, staying focused on loving God and loving neighbor, never seeking the heart’s satisfaction in the passing pleasures and achievements of our earthly, temporal existence. As a result of that kind of “obsession,” you see yourself better positioned to share with those around you the light of Christ. Well, in that case, I agree with you one-hundred percent: we should all be “obsessed” with the afterlife!
Frank Sheed, the great twentieth-century Catholic apologist, would have a different word for this kind of obsession. He would simply call it “sanity.” I would like to finish this short post by sharing a quotation from his classic work, Theology and Sanity (reprinted in 1993 by Ignatius Press, well worth reading and available here), where he explains that having a Christian world view is the path to intellectual health:
My concern in this book is not with the will but with the intellect, not with sanctity but with sanity. The difference is too often overlooked in the practice of religion. The soul has two faculties and they should be clearly distinguished. There is the will: its work is to love – and so to choose, to decide, to act. There is the intellect: its work is to know, to understand, to see: to see what? To see what’s there. I have said that my concern is with the intellect rather than with the will: this not because the intellect matters more in religion than the will, but because it does matter and tends to be neglected, and the neglect is bad. I realize that salvation depends directly upon the will. We are saved or damned according to what we love. If we love God, we shall ultimately get God: we shall be saved. If we love self in preference to God then we shall get self apart from God: we shall be damned. But though in our relation to God the intellect does not matter as much as the will (and indeed depends for its health upon the will) it does matter, and as I have said, it is too much neglected – to the great misfortune of the will, for we can never attain a maximum love of God with only a minimum knowledge of God.
Yours in Christ, Fr. John Bartunek, LC, ThD
Art for this post on being heavenly minded: Detail of All Saints, Willem Vrelant, early 1460s, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, published in the United States prior to January 1, 1923, Wikimedia Commons.