The physical hardships of aging, while daunting, provide a sort of exclamation mark on your life at this point in time. When you begin to weigh the significance of the past 50 years or so (assuming that life actually begins sometime after your 18th birthday) it should become clear that you are defined not by what you have accomplished so far, but by what you have left to do.
My bent right now is strictly theological, so if you are still wobbly about the existence of God and your relationship to Him, you have two choices: Either stop reading right now or get on to some heavy thinking.
The first question you must ask yourself if you do acknowledge that a Supreme Being exists, and consequently is responsible for the creation of everything in the universe, including you, is this: How should I live my life to acknowledge my thanks to God for His magnificent act of creation?
This is important to ponder. When you hear people say: “Let’s give thanks to God”, what are they asking you to be thankful for? I’ll give you a hint. It has nothing to do with any physical object you possess or dream about. I can’t answer this question for you. It is something you must reflect on, and in the fullness of time, hopefully you will understand why I ask it.
Even though I am a Catholic, and hopefully a faithful one at that, I’m not going to say you must convert, or even that you must read the Bible. My only appeal is that you follow the single most important principal of Natural Law: Don’t intentionally hurt anyone. This is where it all begins. This is where the quest for holiness starts, and sometimes ends for many of us.
Naturally, I believe in Heaven and Hell. It is hard (if not impossible) not to believe in God and also deny the notion that there is something else after life ends on earth. The question now becomes: If there is a God, and if there is a Heaven and Hell, why is there a Heaven and Hell? I think we can skip the notion of what each place represents, but it does beg the question: What are the requirements for entry into either place?
Things start to fall into place at this point. In its simplest form, one is a good place, and one is a bad place; and once you are in one, you are there for eternity.
One of the hardest things for people to conceptualize is the notion of time. God, Heaven and Hell exist outside of time. Time is an abstract, earthly construct that we developed to help make sense of the world and order our lives. The most primitive calculation of time was the day. Way back when, a day wasn’t 24 hours, it was sunrise to sunrise. When man became reflective enough to consider the ramification of a single day, time was born.
As we continued to evolve, the concept of time expanded, based on our view of the earth rotating on its axis, the earth revolving around the sun, etc. It wasn’t until the 16th century that we formalized the notion of hours, days, and years. While Julius Caesar did validate the concept of the lunar year, news did not travel quickly back then.
The point is that WE determined that an hour has sixty minutes, and a minute has 60 seconds. Those intervals are abstract transformations that help us make sense of the world around us. If there is a God, and a Heaven and Hell, you can be sure there is no sense of time, simply because it is no longer needed anymore. I doubt very, very much that anyone in Heaven wonders “what are we going to do today”, and I doubt if anyone in Hell cares.
Catholics define Heaven as being eternally in the presence of God, and Hell as being eternally outside His presence. How one gets to either place isn’t really a mystery. Once you get past Natural Law, which is exceedingly important for any culture that exists outside the boundaries of what we loosely call ‘Western Civilization’, you are tasked with at least looking at the Old Testament and examining The Ten Commandments. For The Jews who received these laws, ostensibly passed from God to Moses, we have a very simple list of rules for good behavior.
No good Catholic can look you in the eye and tell you if you are going to Heaven or Hell if you violate these rules. Anyone who thinks they can think like God, and dispense His judgement is on mighty shaky ground, and may be surprised when his first (and last) ‘Come To Jesus Meeting’ takes place.
If you look at Heaven as the place where good people go and Hell as the place where bad people go I would assume that being good, would be the order of the day. Since much of our culture is based on the errant notion that this is a subjective decision, it would be easy to be lulled into a false sense of security in thinking “Everything I do Is Good!”. It probably isn’t.
This is a wonderful time for people like that to examine history -- let’s say for the past 5000 years of recorded civilization. That should have a really sobering effect on any halfway intelligent person. Thinking that the value structure that has become popular in the past 20 years or so is cast in stone, may be remediated back for another glance when one observes that 20/5000 is a really, really, tiny number.
The easiest way to teach someone that certain actions are intrinsically and objectively wrong is to perform a little test. Next time you are with a group of people, pick out one that likes to think he can define good and bad according to which way the wind blows every day. Tell him or her that you want to conduct an experiment. Ask them for their wallet. Tell them that naturally you will give it right back to them, you have no intention of keeping it. Then lie. Keep the wallet and resist returning it. When the person becomes outraged enough, ask them why you should return it. If the best they can come up with is: ”Because it’s mine!”, play it out a little longer. Hang on to it until they shout out “Stealing is wrong.”
When they admit that, simply ask them why stealing is wrong. Point made. They no longer have a personal set of values; they have universal ones.
You could (with some difficulty), work your way through the rest of the Ten Commandments, examining each one and explaining why it is universally true. To be honest, it would take a person very skilled in Catholic Apologetics to explain each one, because some have much more complex meanings than their original texts. This is where Catholic Tradition becomes important, a notion that other Christians will flatly deny.
Not to stray from our original point: life is what you do next. This does not mean your past is of no value, it only means your perspective is -- if you relegate your thought process to the past instead of the present.
There is a very large circle completing its first rotation now. If we acknowledge the existence of God, of Heaven and Hell, and the notion that there are obvious and objective ways of defining the difference between right and wrong, then our path becomes quite clear.
Separate yourself from your sins of the past and push forward only doing the right thing. Draw the line in the sand. Be loving with family members who dare to cross it. The process of moving from the dark to the light can take a long time (around 40 years for me). But remember this: God sees every good thing you do, for yourself, but especially for others.
The truth does not waver. What was true 1000 year ago is still true today; and will continue to be true long after we have left the earth. Seek the Truth. Share it with people who will listen. Avoid those who won’t. Push back those who would attempt to cross the line you have drawn.
But this is what’s great about God. He lets you freely choose Him or reject Him. All you have do is be prepared for the consequences.