What the Christian Has
“Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither” (C. S. Lewis).
The only life worth living is a life pursuing God. There is a lot of talk nowadays about saving the planet. Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and billionaire philanthropists have plans for ending poverty. Big government and big tech companies talk about protecting us from racism, disease, and death. There is a clamoring voice to build a man-made utopia. Where does the Christian stand in all this? Our search is different altogether. Our aim is not to seek utopia here and now, but to seek eternity with God.
“Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy…So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:20-22).
There are two kinds of hope. The first hope is the hope the world offers. In the garden of Eden, the snake whispered hope in the ears of Eve: “Eat this apple, and you will become like God.” His promise resulted in exile and hatred. World War I was called the “War to End All Wars.” It resulted in World War II and the most violent century of human history. Karl Marx roused hope that working man could overthrow injustice. His philosophy inspired the greatest acts of inhumanity and cruelty ever seen. History is full of hope turned upside down.
King David foresaw this millennia ago.
“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry…The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations” (Psalm 146:3-7).
Some anchor their hope in the government, only to be crushed in the end. Others trust to their own intelligence, physical strength, morality, or even spirituality, believing that they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They are happy for a while. Then they wake up to find it all meaningless. Others place their hope in God. They will suffer. They will experience trials and losses, and, at times, nearly reach the brink of despair, but their hope will carry them through it all.
“You have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
The second hope is hope in God. Piotr Andreyevich was tortured in various concentration camps. This priest, later known as Fr. Arseny, had been a Christian leader in an atheist country. He was continually persecuted for his convictions. Everything he owned was taken from him. He was forced to labor in frost-bitten climates. He was starved and beaten. Yet, despite it all, he never despaired. He was surrounded by chaos, but full of peace. He was bombarded by hatred, but overflowed in love. He even rejoiced in his imprisonment. He discovered, in his trials, opportunities to pray and witness the love of Christ.
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31).
Fr. Arseny was no exception. Read the lives of the saints. Each generation produces its martyrs who endure all kinds of suffering, but they do not break. They have hope, true hope, which comes only from a life of walking with God.
Then, there was Larry and Immaculatta. When I was working at an assisted living home, I had the opportunity of counseling two very different individuals. The first was Larry, an agnostic Jew, and the other, Immaculatta, a Roman Catholic from Italy. Both were suffering the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Throughout his life, Larry found meaning in his friends, jobs, and love for Jazz. In light of his diagnosis, none of that mattered anymore. It was stripped from him, and he was left with despair. Immaculatta found meaning in God and family. Her friends were gone, her family was dead, but nothing had taken her God. Each day, as she clung to her rosary, hope burned in her quiet heart. Hope carried her through her trials and hope gave her joy.
But is all this just wishful thinking? Is it illusion? In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis addressed this accusation.
“Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”
The greatest accomplishments in history were made by those concerned about eternity. Hospitals, universities, food banks, and the great works of art, these are the legacy of the Church, from the heavenly-minded saints. Those who thought most about the next life left behind the most for us here below.
“Aim at Heaven,” C. S. Lewis observes, “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither” (C. S. Lewis).
Today, we are chrismating a young boy, Ciaran. Into what are we initiating him? There is nothing symbolic here. This is not a trite ritual or simple celebration of life. When that oil touches his forehead, he will be marked forever. We are setting him aside for a specific life — a life of aiming for heaven.
A lot of people worry about our times. How can we raise a child in such an unstable world? What kind of challenges is he going to face? I believe it is an exciting time. Nothing can shake a heart anchored to Jesus Christ. With all its ups and downs, today has as many opportunities as any day for loving God and loving others, and the peace that comes from above. Ciaran is coming into this world with a gift. He will have two loving parents, and he will have faith. With love and faith, nothing will be able to shake him. With a heart striving for God, he will have joy at every stage of his life.
Make hope an entire way of living. Hope in the resurrection, when you wake up and go to bed. Hope in paradise, when you say your prayers and when you drive to work. Hope in the eternal bliss prepared by Christ with every thought and deed. Aim at heaven and rest in hope.