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The Next Life Is a Lot Longer Than This One | Mary Beth Bonacci | Ignatius Insight
When we start to think this life is all that matters, it
helps to think how long we'll spend in the next one.
I've been thinking a lot lately about how long people have
I know, I know. One could make the argument that I've
been a little preoccupied with the matter of death in my columns the past few
months. But what really preoccupies me isn't death so much as what
happens after death—the life on the other side. And we should all
be preoccupied with that—because whatever it looks like, we're going to
spend a lot more time on that side than we ever spent on this side.
Which is what got me thinking. It started, I believe,
with the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther
King. He was thirty-nine when he died. So now he's been gone as long as he
When we think of how long it's been since a person has died,
we think of how long that person hasn't been here with us. People sit on
panels discussing the civil rights movement in the forty years since Dr. King's
death, and they earnestly debate how he would have responded to this-or-that
development, or what he would think about the direction the movement has taken,
etc. In our own lives, we think of departed loved ones and wish they
could've been here to see the birth of a grandchild, or the accomplishment of a
And we can only do that for so long. How often do we
wish Abraham Lincoln could be here to witness some modern event? Once a
person lapses into the "historical figure" category, the idea of their presence
in modern day America becomes the stuff of jokes, like Abraham Lincoln playing
cards with a beaver in an ad for sleep medication, or Bill and Ted instructing
the likes of Joan of Arc and Ludwig von Beethoven to "pick a buddy" while
roaming through a suburban mall in one of my favorite movies,"Bill and
Ted's Excellent Adventure."
But all of the years those people haven't been here with us,
they've been somewhere else. And that seems like the more important angle
Let's take Dr. King as an example. Look, I have no
inside insight into his, or anyone's, final destination. God sees the
heart, and He knows far more than I could possibly glean from news reports and
old black and white footage. But, for simplicity's sake, let's pretend
for a moment that there were no other factors in his salvation other than his
sincere desire to end unjust discrimination. (Note: This is a simplified
hypothetical example to make a point. Please do not send me letters about
Dr. King's personal life or motivation or your own speculation about his final
destination. It's not relevant to our discussion here.) He knew it
was dangerous. In fact, I read an article just last week about how he struggled
with fear and depression stemming from his near-certainty that his activism on
behalf of the civil rights movement would cost him his life. And, of
course, it did—just a day after he gave a speech in which he predicted
that he wouldn't live long enough to see the "promised land."
Was it worth it? He could have lived a much easier life,
free of the fear and depression and sacrifices and constant death threats and
stints in jail.
Well, let's see. He was active in the civil rights
movement for about fifteen years. So assume he sacrificed pretty hard for
most of that time. If indeed he is enjoying a reward for that sacrifice,
he's been enjoying it for forty years now. And that reward is not going
Let's look at another example. Adolph Hitler wanted
power, and he wanted to use that power against the Jews. He was elected
Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and got to "enjoy" the twisted perks of that
powerful position, taking the lives of millions of innocent Jews in the
process, until his self-inflicted death in 1945. (Apparently genocide
didn't turn out to be as rewarding as he had hoped.) He got what he
wanted for twelve years. I'm guessing I wouldn't want to join him in his "home"
of the past sixty-three years since his death. Wherever that is, he's
going to be there a whole lot longer.
Abraham Lincoln lived fifty-six years, suffering horribly in the
last five years of his life spent struggling to save the union. John Wilkes
Booth died a few days after he murdered Lincoln. They've both spent that
past 143 years in their respective eternities.
Genghis Khan lived sixty-give years, twenty-one of which he
spent plundering Asia and amassing enormous personal wealth. Around the same
time, St. Francis of Assisi was renouncing his inherited wealth and dedicating
his life to serving the Lord in holy poverty. He spent forty-seven years
on this earth. Francis, a canonized saint, has been enjoying the
ecstatically perfect happiness of the Beatific Vision for just over 780
years. Khan has spent roughly the same amount of time in whichever
eternal state his actions here merited for him.
Moses spent forty years wandering in the desert trying to do
the will of God. He's been with God in eternity for what, three thousand
My point is simple. When we're here, we think we're
going to be here forever. We sorta know that we're supposed to die at
some point, but we really don't live like we know it. We think all that
matters is living in comfort and getting what we want in this life.
We want what we want, and we don't give a whole lot of thought to the truly
But when this life ends, another life with begin. And
that one will last a whole lot longer. Not just a few years longer.
Not just twice as long. Forever.
And where we end up in that life has everything to do with
the decisions and choices we make in this life.
Kinda puts a different spin on things, doesn't it?
This column originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on RealLove.net
on April 10, 2008.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Book Excerpts:
What Do Mother Teresa and Patrick Swayze Have In Common? | Mary Beth Bonacci
My Imaginary Funeral Homily | Mary Beth Bonacci
Do All Catholics Go Straight to Heaven? | Mary Beth Bonacci
Be Nice To Me. I'm Dying. | Mary Beth Bonacci
Death, Where Is Thy Sting? | Adrienne von Speyr
Purgatory: Service Shop for Heaven | Reverend Anthony Zimmerman
The Question of Hope | Peter Kreeft
Are God's Ways Fair? | Ralph Martin
The Question of Suffering, the
Response of the Cross | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The Cross and The Holocaust | Regis Martin
Why Do We Exist? | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
From Defeat to Victory: On the Question of Evil | Alice von Hildebrand
Mary Beth Bonacci is internationally known for her talks
and writings about love, chastity, and sexuality. Since 1986 she has spoken
to tens of thousands of young people, including 75,000 people in 1993 at
World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. She appears frequently on radio and
television programs, including several appearances on MTV.
Mary Beth has written two books, We're
on a Mission from God and Real
Love, and also writes a regular, syndicated column for various publications.
She has developed numerous videos, including her brand-newest video series,
also entitled Real Love. Her video Sex
and Love: What's a Teenager to Do? was awarded the 1996 Crown Award
for Best Youth Curriculum.
Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from
the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage
and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. She was
also awarded an honorary doctorate in Communications from the Franciscan
University of Steubenville, and is listed in Outstanding Young Women
of America for 1997. Her apostolate, Real
Love Incorporated is dedicated to presenting the truth about the Church's
teaching about sexuality, chastity, and marriage.
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