I was talking with one of our religious education teachers yesterday, a man very committed to that ministry, and during our conversation he told me about the last class he had before everything was suspended. By then there was already a feeling of unease about the growing threat of the Coronavirus and speculation on what measures would be taken in response to it. And so he reminded the kids in his class that “this world is our temporary home.” That’s such an important lesson to learn, because if you believe that to be true (as we Catholics do) it affects the way you approach life.
Obviously, it’s not as though we are the only ones who are aware of the fact that death comes for us all. Our mortality has been the impetus for reflection on the meaning of life throughout the history of human civilization. Our time on earth is so relatively brief – what is it all about? How are we supposed to use this time? Does it mean anything, or is it ultimately absurd, an accident in the evolution of a cosmos that is indifferent to our existence and which will continue long after our sun goes out and life on this planet is extinguished?
The events that we commemorate this week reveal to us that human action is not meaningless. The sin of Adam & Eve meant something. It had the effect of bringing disorder into the world and setting humanity in a state of rebellion against God, rendering us incapable of reconciling ourselves with Him. But then the Lord entered His creation and became man. And in His human nature He redeemed us through His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. That meant something. It reconciled humanity with its Creator who out of love for us also became Our Savior, and who offered us a share in His great Easter victory through baptism, which fills us with His resurrected life. This is pure gift – but it requires a response on our part. The 12th century abbot St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote about this saying: “Children re-born in baptism are not without merit, but possess the merits of Christ; but they make themselves unworthy of these if they do not add their own – not because of inability but because of neglect; this is the danger of maturity.”
What a tragedy it is to waste our baptismal grace by making the attainment of worldly glory or comfort and pleasure the aim of our lives. We are instead called to spend these days in our temporary home preparing for entrance into our eternal home. Christ makes that possible. He shares with us the merits of His sacrifice so that we can participate in the work of our salvation and the salvation of others. How we do that is no mystery. We avail ourselves of everything that Christ gives us for this purpose – the teaching authority of the Church, the Sacred Scriptures, our natural capacity to know the truth, the sacraments that strengthen us and heal us, the intercession of the saints, the aid of the Blessed Mother, as well as the innumerable opportunities that everyday life provides to perform works of mercy for our neighbor. By helping each other know this truth and recognize the opportunity that life in grace affords us to participate in Christ’s salvation of the world, is to acquire the necessary coin to enter the Kingdom – it is to acquire merit.
I pray that the young people who received that lesson from their teacher have given thought to what he taught them, that they might approach life with a Catholic imagination that helps them to see what a gift this time in the world is and how meaningful each action is when done with God in grace.