A strange sense of post-existence can settle into our soul once we have traveled a certain way with God. We stand before the artifacts of our life—our bookshelves, photos, notebooks, collections of every sort—and realize they all belong elsewhere, in eternity. They are all signs of a fresh beginning we are right on the threshold of beginning, the shadows of some realer wholeness God will raise. Or they are signs of a bygone life, like a silken cocoon we no longer fit yet carry with us invisibly in our flight. We know that in themselves these artifacts are nothing. They served but one purpose: to sluice us in the direction of God’s height. They remind us, however subtly, that we are mortal on our way to immortality, that the path to the divine goes straight through the immediacy of the concrete, that soul and body are a unity. And yet, nothing these finite things contain—or that we did with them—can or could ever “produce” what God has to give us through them: infinity. We know that God alone will turn them into what they intended to be: conditions for the workings of His Spirit.
With this sense of post-existence, we realize the gratuitousness of our entire spiritual dimension, of our orientation toward the supernatural, of our destiny with God in heaven—and of the sheer magnitude of how all these coextend within our most simple, earthly, human realities. In all the precious things of our person, God has gradually revealed His incomparable preciousness. No doubt in such moments we gain a foretaste of what is to come. But we also understand, in profound gratitude, that what we see before us is God’s own groundwork for our eternal life. These are the pages He chose for us to read, ponder, and struggle with. These are the rugs He chose for us to sit and stand upon. These are the paths He chose for us to walk and stumble on. These are the persons He brought to us, to teach us love. There we see our whole commitment, the core attitude of our being to the calling of our life, manifest in such a mysterious way. Our love is present in them all, though its totality can only be glimpsed at a slant, as if in fragments. And yet, none of it is fragmented where it really is—in God.
Now we come to see that each of our artifacts—and this includes our very body—bears the mark of our care or carelessness, of our attention or neglect. Each reflects the verdict to be drawn on our eternity, each is stamped with the eternal validity or invalidity of how we used our freedom. Death—which cannot be anticipated—will render unto our sight and God’s the definitiveness of our choices, our acts, our freedom. In these moments of post-existence, we catch a glimmer of this reality, the reality of the resurrection—when the time for thinking, doing, and speaking will be done; when our temporal duration will have entered the eternal duration; when all becoming will have finished. What will we feel about what we’ve become, when the time for becoming is over? How we feel about this question now is already a sign of how it will feel then. For heaven and earth already interpenetrate in our person, far beyond what we could tell. So too do earth and hell, in ways more obvious and painful. Would we wish to do for all eternity what we’ve chosen and are choosing to do now? Because whatever we might wish, it is so. It will be as it will have been. The prayer we offer now is the seedbed of the prayer we’ll offer before the heavenly Host for all eternity. If we do not learn to glimpse God now, how will we see Him then? If we have squandered our chance at goodness, truth, beauty and holiness now, what chance do we have of gaining these when time is at its end? A sense of post-existence can, quite rightly, terrify, for behind it lies the realization: this is what I will have been. From this I will be raised up, but my new form will correspond, in its perfections and imperfections, to the form I lived. I bear, in the grief of what has been, the joy that is to come. Am I prepared? Will I have died wisely, or in vain?
“At the evening of our life, we shall be judged by our love,” said St. John of the Cross. This strange sense of post-existence is our sign.
By Timothy Lavenz
May 24, 2022