Usually, I imagine eternity as time never ending. I imagine it like an infinite number, like this one. This means when I think about heaven I think of a place where time goes on and on and on. Interminable. It sounds so dull.
This Pentecost, our younger son was confirmed in the Catholic Church. During the liturgy I had this powerful, visceral sense of eternity. I felt it all the way to my bones. It was not the kind of eternity I usually imagine, but the kind of eternity I have come to understand, a world unbound by time.
You see, I felt, truly felt, the Confirmation rite sealing the Baptisms of the 10 young people in front of me. Yes this is what our Church teaches. But what does that mean? First, Baptism removes the sin of our ancestors and calls us back to our origins, which go way way back to the start of the universe. The idea of each of us - as individuals - was present when Mystery began unfolding time. So right there, in the sacrament of Baptism, time folds back upon itself.
The Church tells us the sacrament of Confirmation perfects our Baptism. This tells me Baptism doesn't go away; it has life within us always. The Holy Spirit perfects that sacrament when the Church confirms us. Once again, time doubles back upon itself.
We see this unfolding most of all in Christ Himself, the son of the Mystery who not only intervened in human history, bringing eternity into ordinary time, but also who continues to do so. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Church is not just play-acting the Last Supper and indulging in nostalgia for a beautiful event 2,000 years ago; rather She is changing the essence of bread and wine into the actual Body and Blood of Christ. So every Sunday - heck every day - we get to taste heaven. We feed not just our stomachs but our souls, too, with bits of eternity,
During the Mass, these mind-blowing, time-bending epiphanies caused tears of joy to stream down my face. The tears came in part because my parents attended the Confirmation. This was no small accomplishment; they live nearly two hours away and had to be driven by their aide. I started thinking about how my parents were present at my Baptism five decades ago. I thought about how they also attended our son's 13 years ago in this very same parish. How beautiful they were able to witness the sacrament's completion.
My thoughts kept circling around the idea of eternity. In the exquisite book Love and Salt, writer Jessica Mesman Griffith grapples with the concept, describing eternity as "a world unbound by time." and a state where the past, present and future all exist simultaneously.
"Maybe this is a rudimentary way of understanding how heaven will not be an undesirable, unrecognizable, timeless other, but rather, the fullness of our lives."
One of the most moving parts of yesterday's Mass occurred when our pastor, Father Tom Odorizzi, C.O, had completed giving Communion to those who had lined up. He stood at the front of the church, scanning the crowd, looking for folks who were not able to walk in the Communion line. I realized that he was holding in the chalice pieces of eternity and he was offering them to us.
Father Tom spied an elderly parishioner in a wheelchair near us and he approached her. A guest at our son's Confirmation is a dear family friend who grew up in pre-Vatican II Europe and for at least 40 years has not stepped inside a Catholic Church. When Father Tom approached the woman in the wheelchair, our family friend craned his neck, peering around a column in front of us to witness the priest giving a consecrated host to the man.
I considered that perhaps even for those of us who wander far from church doors, the weaving of time with the Divine that happens during sacraments, that glimpse of eternity, remains irresistible.