26 May 2009. Tuesday of the 7th Week of Easter
Acts 20, 17-27; Psalm 68; John 17, 1-11: On Eternal Life
The Gospel today tells us the great understanding of eternal life in the New Testament. In Greek is is aiōnis. This word is not about the duration of life or what we know as life without end. The meaning of aiōnis is quality of life. And there is only one person to whom the word aiōnis can properly be applied, and that is God. Eternal life, therefore, is nothing other than the life of God. To possess it, to enter into it is to have an experience of it here and now is therefore an aiōnis, the experience of eternal life. To know God and to know Jesus is aiōnis, eternal life.
The Old Testament supports this definition of eternal life: Wisdom is “a tree of life to those who lay hold of her” (Proverbs 3,18). Wisdom is “the root of immortality” (Wisdom 5, 3). The prophet Habbakuk’s dream of the golden age is that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God” (Habbakuk 2, 14). The Old Testament therefore understands that to know God is necessary for aiōnis, for eternal life.
But there is something else. William Barclay tells us that in the Old Testament, the writers use the word, know, for sexual knowledge. Genesis 4,1 says “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived, and bore Cain.” Ideally then the knowledge of husband and wife is the most intimate. The husband and wife are no longer two, but one flesh. In the “knowledge” --- as the Old Testament uses it ---- the sexual act is not the important thing, it is the union of mind and heart, of everything else that makes true love. St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises says that love consists basically in the communication of the two lovers --- namely, in the lover’s giving and sharing with the beloved what he or she has or can command, and conversely, the beloved with the lover; so that if one has knowledge, that person gives it to the other who does not possess it; likewise, with honors and wealth and all other things. And therefore, to know God is to know him intimately; that our minds, heart and souls are attuned closely and dearly to God. This is eternal life.
And therefore if we participate in the life of God, we are already experiencing eternal life even in the present, in the here and now. For example, if God is merciful to you, because you have experienced God as forgiving of your sins, and therefore, you find yourself more considerate and merciful of other people’s shortcomings, then you are aiōnis. Blessed Peter Favre knew Jesus as the Consoler, and he too was very consoling to those who need it. These are the people who are in aiōnis or in eternal life.
The Lord said that it is possible to have eternal life because it is possible to fully know God. To know God is to know Jesus, His Son, to whom the Father sent, and is now sending us. St. Ignatius of Loyola in his famous Spiritual Exercises asked those on retreat to pray that the Lord to grant them the grace to know Him more intimately, love Him more dearly and follow Him more closely. We shall do the same to experience eternal life here and now.