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 been dead.
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 was alive.
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 goal, etc.
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 to examine.
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 to end.
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 years now?
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 long-term consequences.
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
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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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