Our Journey Back to God

“Christ suffered for sins once…that He might lead you to God.”

Three Jehovah Witnesses visited our seminary a few days ago. In the course of our discussion, they offered me a complementary (but unsolicited) copy of their magazine. The front page had a picture of a happy looking family, with the sun shining brightly in the background, a beautiful water fall behind them, some animals in the background, beautiful well-kept green lawns and many children praying and laughing. One of them said to me, “This is what paradise will be like.” I mentioned that I never heard of a paradise here on earth. He told me that after the Resurrection, only the faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses will be saved from eternal annihilation and reside forever on Paradise earth.

I replied, “Let me get this straight: Jesus Christ came to this world of sin and suffering, took on our frail human nature, lived a truly human life with all it entails, suffered a brutal death on the Cross, rose from the grave, sent us the Holy Spirit, and then ascended into heaven with our human nature now glorified to seat at the Father’s side and intercede for us as the Scriptures teach. He did all this so that we can live forever on an earthly paradise? Pretty depressing deal don’t you think?” That was the end of our discussion and their visit. I don’t think they will be visiting us again as they promised to do.

St Peter writes to persecuted Christians to remind them of the hope that comes from Christ’s death and Resurrection. He does not promise the persecuted ones an earthly paradise but reminds them why Christ suffered death and rose from the dead and what it means for them: “For Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteousness, that He might lead you to God.” Because Christ is leading them now to the Father, the persecuted Christians should be ready to endure any suffering for the sake of doing the good: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.”

The sufferings of Christ, as well as His glorification, freed us from sin and make it possible for us to journey back to God along the very same path that Christ has travelled in His journey to the Father. We recall His words to His disciples on the eve of His Passion, “I go to prepare a place for you. And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”(Jn 14:3) In so many other instances Jesus revealed that He desires that we participate in His fullness of communion with the Father. He desires that we be “where He is,” i.e. with His Father forever. We came from God and we are returning to God ultimately; it is full unending communion with God and not earthly bliss that is our destiny.

What is this path along which Jesus leads us, this path along which He has travelled to the Father? It is the path of loving obedience to the Father in all things, going beyond merely doing the good but doing the good out of love for God. He stresses this fact in the Gospel: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He responds to our loving obedience by obtaining the Holy Spirit for us: “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth…You know the Holy Spirit, because He remains with you and will be in you.” Jesus is leading us back to God by the power of the Spirit of truth within us. Because the Spirit remains in us and with us, we are beneficiaries of His light, strength and joy even as we walk through a world of pain, suffering and death. Surely we cannot be recipients of such immense divine gifts and vocation and still talk about being destined to live in an earthly paradise.

The Samaritans in the First Reading have a very good reason to ignore the message of the Gospel that Philip preached to them. After all, there was a long and bitter conflict between these Samaritans and the Palestinian Jews. Yet they “paid attention to what was said by Philip and the signs that he was doing.” They began to experience that joy that comes from obedience to the word that is heard: “There was great joy in that city.” The Spirit of truth is given to them through the laying on of hands of Peter and John, thereby fortifying the Samaritans for the journey back to God.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, though our Christian faith and tradition do not hint at any earthly paradise as our eternal destiny, it is possible for us to live our lives as if we were longing for such a destiny. Let me share with you two questions that may help us know if we are living as Christians or as Jehovah witnesses who long for an eternity of earthly bliss.

Firstly, have we ever let our situation or experiences in this world adversely affect our faith in Jesus Christ? If we have ever let our earthly conditions diminish our faith in Jesus Christ, our hope in His goodness or our love for Him, then we have bought into the lie that we can be completely satisfied here on earth. We have forgotten that Christ died and rose from the grave not to establish heaven here on earth but to lead us to God through similar acts of loving obedience that Christ Himself performed. Through Him, with Him and in Him, it is possible for us to make the journey home to God along the path of loving obedience through a world filled with pain and suffering.

Secondly, why do we obey God today and seek to do His will in all things? If we are obedient to God or trying to be faithful to Him so as to gain earthly benefits (pleasure, wealth, fame, good health, comfort, success, good feelings, etc), then we have followed the same line of thought as the Jehovah witnesses. The path along which Christ leads us is the path of loving obedience where we seek His will above all things because He is infinitely good and worthy of all our love. His commandment to us is summed up in this, “Love one another as I have loved you.”(Jn 13:34) His love for us was not for any earthly gain and our own love for Him cannot be for the sake of earthly gain.

In this month of May dedicated to Mother Mary, let us contemplate closely the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We find in her a constant response of loving obedience to God’s will from the moment of the Annunciation till her glorious Assumption. The more she lovingly obeyed, the more the Holy Spirit worked wonders in her soul until the point of her glorious Assumption. In her Assumption, Mary is led by her loving Son to the Father by the Spirit that filled her soul at the moment of the Incarnation. Jesus did not abandon His Mother in the grave but took her body and soul into heaven. Mary’s life shows us what our true destiny is if we too allow ourselves to be led by Jesus along the path of that obedience that does not flow from desire for things of this world but is rooted in the love of God.

In our Eucharistic encounter with Jesus, we recall His words to us: “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servants be also; if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”(Jn 12:26) He comes to us in this Eucharist to walk with us step by step on our upward journey home. This world has never been and will never be our lasting home no matter how tempting it may be to us. The Spirit that we have received will not let us rest contented in this world but will continue to move us to our eternal home with the Triune God and the saints and angels in heaven. We have the impetus of the Spirit of love sustaining us, we have Mary interceding for us to persevere in the journey home to God, and we have a cloud of witnesses cheering us on from heaven.

We must now and always follow Jesus with complete confidence as He leads us to Father by the Holy Spirit and avoid the temptation to ever wish for a heaven here on earth.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

Fr. Nnamdi Moneme, OMV

By

Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations' Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at  www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.

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  • joan

    Hello Father, I’ve heard of paradise here on earth.

    ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.’ God’s creation was more than good, it was very good. Adam and Eve’s disobedience got them expelled from the Garden. Jesus came for all of us, He came to restore His garden, and only He can read hearts.

    I know you know this, however, it is a difficult concept for me to grasp that God would disgard His very good creation. I know in my heart of hearts there is a blending. Therefore, it’s just got to be a meeting of Heaven and Earth. Afterall, Jesus is human and Divine.

    I definately don’t believe this world’s ways and stuff, pride, power, honor, wealth, will exist in God’s Kingdom here on earth. I believe God’s creation will be restored to His garden and we will live in our glorified bodies in His paradise, existing as one in Him. We will be Love!

    I believe it is partial revealing as to the mansion and its many rooms. Spriritual, perhaps a level (which we won’t care about), and indeed a revealing that is perhaps only at best explained by the Saints.

    This ‘world’ will no longer exist, however, the earth in all God’s Glorified creation will.

    Does this make sense? Maybe you can help me as to what and where my thinking is going in the wrong direction. Thank you, Father.

    in Christ ~

  • http://www.radice.org.uk/ John Radice

    I’m surprised at some of this, Father. A new earth (as well as a new heaven) is promised in Isaiah and Revelation. Where do you expect the resurrected saints to live? Sure, the heavenly Jerusalem comes near: it seems that in the world to come, heaven and earth are no longer separated as they must be now. It’s a shame Christians ignore the new earth: God said the first one was good – how much better the second one, where the lion will sit down with the lamb, and all creation will no longer be subject to frustration!

  • Smoky Smoky

    Why you gotta be so mean to those JWs, Fr. Nnamdi??

  • Mancipium Mariae

    My brother, no matter how one interprets the new heaven and the new earth, whether it refers to the Incarnation of the Word on earth or its newness after the Resurrection, earth as we know it cannot be our final destiny. We are created for perfect communion with the Triune God. Even creation itself “waits with eager longing” for mankind to participate fully in God’s glory. Prayerfully reflect on Rom 8 and note how we are to relate to all of creation.

  • Mancipium Mariae

    Sorry if you sense meanness in this but I don’t see meanness in the article. The implications of their clearly stated “earthly paradise” theology was examined through scriptures, Christian tradition, and logic, and it was found wanting in so many ways. The two questions in the article show that it is indeed possible for us despite our Christian faith and teaching to consciously or unconsciously, think like them and desire what they desire. It is meant to give us food for thought about our final destiny as we live in an imperfect world. I hope this helps.

  • Mancipium Mariae

    Hello Joan and God bless you. I don’t get it all myself but I know that praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is done in heaven does not make our earth a heaven. We still have to deal with sin, death and suffering. Yes, creation is good even after the Fall of Adam and Eve, it was recreated by the Incarnation and the death and resurrection of Jesus. This shows that the entire created world is on a journey of constant renewal and perfecting, journeying back to its creator, led by man, the rational creature, the one created in the image and likeness of God. We too, as created beings are on a journey back to our Creator where we will attain the full participation in His own perfection. (See Romans 8) That is why we cannot rest content in the thought of an earthly paradise. I hope that this helps to clarify things.

  • joan

    Thank you, Father. I’m not quite sure I am able to put into words clearly enough as to what i’m trying to say. All in all, I do believe in the glorified body, i do believe in the meeting of Heaven and Earth and most definately a blending (that’s the only word i can think of that explains what i’m trying to say).

    I’m perfectly okay trusting that Jesus is preparing a place for me – wherever that is located. (as long as i continue to strive to remain in His Grace)

    p.s. Paradise! yippiee i don’t know about you, but this waiting in killing me.

  • http://www.radice.org.uk/ John Radice

    Of course we are to – we are created to rule over all the works of God’s hands. In resurrected bodies – presumably you believe that? St John saw “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1). Not hard to understand that, however mysterious it is to imagine. St Peter says: “In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth”. The same phrase – clearly a well known article of faith, probably repeated from Isaiah 65:17: “I will create new heavens and a new earth”. This is our truly incarnational, Catholic faith – the material is sanctified, all creation sacramentally declares the power, glory and wisdom of God. To use Romans 8 to teach a purely spiritualised faith is very Protestant – perhaps that’s your background. But even in this passage, St Paul connects it to resurrection teaching: v 23 “the redemption of our bodies”.

  • joan

    I think if one strives to truly know Jesus, there could be no desire or wanting anything ‘of’ this world. what you think?

  • joan

    i have a confession. When i read about the booklet and the picture that “This is what Paradise will be like”, i laughed. Now, that may be considered kinda mean. I also had another thought right after i laughed. I thought it was kinda mean that the JW would believe they are the only ones to be saved. That doesn’t sound like Love at all.

  • Mancipium Mariae

    John my brother, I am not in any way implying a “spiritualised faith” from Rom 8 but just to highlight the fact that an earthly paradise, one without suffering and pain, cannot be our eternal destiny but that we are to guide creation back to its Creator by relating with it the way that He wills and not to see the earth as our eternal destiny. That is the main thrust of the article. Besides, you may want to read what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about taking “heaven and earth” literally from the scriptures in CCC 325-327. CCC326 states that “the scriptural expression “heaven and earth” means all that exists, creation in its entirety.” Despite the bonds that unite heaven and earth, they must be distinguished. You are emphasizing the unity and I am emphasizing the need to distinguish both, especially as regards our final destiny. i do believe in the glorified body but what our faith rejects is the notion of an eternity on earth no matter how transformed the earth becomes. Well, until we get to heaven hopefully, we shall have all the answers. Meanwhile, let us continue the journey in hope. God bless you.

  • Mancipium Mariae

    Our bond with created things will remain as long as we are in this world. That is why we try to preserve our life at great costs. In truth, we should use all of creation to give glory to Jesus. Our relationship with Jesus and the complete surrender that it entails means that we relate with creation as He would want us to and not as our selfish tendencies will dictate.

  • http://www.radice.org.uk/ John Radice

    I love all that – we’re seeing the same truth, from our different eyes and lives. The CCC is always so clarifying and inspiring. And definitely not just this earth – there’s a whole universe to explore and rule, with no spatial limitations to movement, as the Risen Lord demonstrated!

  • Mancipium Mariae

    I too believe in a resurrected body too Joan and I cannot wait for it. This one is falling apart slowly. Ha ha. Please try reflecting on the Catechism of the Catholic Church # 325-327. I hope that can help you see how the Church sees the relationship between heaven and earth, their unity and distinction. No mention of “blending.” Whatever happens, whoever gets to heaven first, put in a good word for the other, OK? God bless you always.

  • Mancipium Mariae

    Amen brother. Thanks for the lively exchange and the ideas. God bless your own journey to heaven.

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