Friday, November 5, 2010

Heavenly Citizenship: Bringing Forth The "Essence" of the Eternal

During the month of November, the Church remembers the passing of the saints and the faithful departed and celebrates their ongoing life in the Resurrected Lord. Many churches light special candles or erect "altars of remembrance" with the names of their loved ones or pictures as a beautiful reminder that our connection and connectedness does not end in death. Having prepared for and celebrated a number of funerals myself, I am always intrigued by the fact that, for the most part, people remember and emphasize the goodness and beauty of the person who has passed. It would seem that when we experience the loss of someone we have loved, we are able to set aside their faults, failings, foibles, and get to the heart of what made them loved and lovable. It may very well be that when we remember a loved one who has died, we see them as God has always seen them and allow the "essence" of the "eternal" in their life to shine forth in all its glory.

To see the world and those in it the way God sees is essentially what Paul is getting at when he tells the Philippians in today's first reading from Mass that, "our citizenship is in heaven." Some might think that this teaching implies that Christians are to live an "other worldly" style of life and avoid commerce and interaction with those "of the world." This interpretation couldn't be further from Paul's message nor the values of the Gospel. It leads to an attitude commonly referred to as "dualism", which sees value only in religion and spirituality and dismisses the "carnal" or material aspect of reality (i.e., politics, economics, the socio-cultural realm, etc...). It's hard to reconcile such an attitude with the fact that God became in-carnated (recognize the root of "carne" or "carnal", meaning, "flesh") in Christ!

Far from implying "withdrawal", to be a "citizen of heaven" means engaging the world and all that constitutes it with a particular orientation toward the future fulfillment of God's Reign. In other words, it connotes "depth" and not "riding along the surface", simply concerned with acquiring, eating, drinking, and being merry. When a person lives in this world with one foot "forwardly grounded" in the Kingdom of God, they develop the religious and spiritual habit of seeing and drawing forth the truth, goodness, and beauty quietly and nonchalantly present in the persons, circumstances, and even things that make up their surroundings. Heavenly citizenship, far from a mode of detachment from this life, implies being an "ambassador" of God's grace to this world: bringing forth the essence of the eternal so that God may be "all in all." Pat, TOR