Phil 1:21-22 “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose.”
What a profound statement by St. Paul. One that raised a challenge within my own heart when meditating on this phrase. That statement of “I do not know which I shall choose” seems so foreign to me. One that my answer for this question, when posed to me, should be just as perplexing to me as the soul searching done by St. Paul.
We live so vividly in this world that to even consider such a comparison between this and the next seems like a silly question to even ponder. It is a question that am not sure that I have ever posed to myself, personally. So, how would I now answer that poignant question?
I am a big fan of the Indy 500. St. Paul’s Faith and his pining for Heaven reminds me of an Indy car which goes so fast that it needs special engineering features to add down force to keep the car on the track and from trying to fly. On my side, my Faith is mired in a typical sedan car, firmly grounded on this earth, no matter how far I press my accelerator pedal down. It is in this case where St. Paul’s heart wants to fly to Heaven to be with his beloved Lord, but had to keep his mind and body planted on this earth to complete the will of God, to evangelize and spread the Church to the world.
This question is akin to the “Jesus question”, “But who do you say that I am?” The “Which world do I choose” question, as St. Paul agonized, expands the “Jesus question” to its essence. It is the actionable part that comes about after choosing Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Choosing to live, love and do God’s will here on earth, but not being afraid to leave this world behind to take that radical step into the “unknown”, to head to our eternal rewards in Heaven. The word “unknown” remains in quotes, because Heaven should not be a total unknown to us now and especially at the time of our deaths. Are we not currently enjoying God’s Kingdom on earth, only, though, as saints militant?
Even so, as mentioned in “I come to set the earth on fire”, our possessions and life itself clouds our vision of this Heaven on earth. A question pitting life vs. death and the afterlife may even seem like an absurd inquiry to one. Life is the most awesome and wondrous gift that God has given to us, and we should love and fight for every minute of it. On the other hand, we cannot become caught up in our own stuff and our livelihood, clinging to this world like we plan to live forever. That will not happen, even with all the latest medical and scientific advancements. As Fr. Larry Richards said in the opening remarks of his book, “Be a Man”, “You are going to die.”
So, let’s get back to the question at hand. We, foremost, must be willing to do God’s will that He has prepared for us. We have that beautiful note to play in God’s symphony of salvation, so we need to play it. We cannot give up on this world and God’s will until the last breath that God plans us to take is taken. Even if that means to endure devastating times, injuries and sickness. Cutting our note short will have a profound impact, even though we are just one soul among billions, God’s symphony will suffer.
Next, we still need to keep our gaze toward Heaven. We need to cleave our shackles with our possessions, our jobs, our egos and be ready to leave everything, joyfully, when God calls us to the next life. Am I going to argue with St. Peter when I get to his gate, “Why is God taking me now?” Or will I greet St. Peter with a smile and a hug.
For me to yearn to remain here on this earth needs to be founded on being here for one and one reason only: to do God’s will. That is why our Lord created me! I must yearn also and look toward the light of the future, how great and wonderful the prize will be if I stay the course and hear those blessed, sought after words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” Amen.