Last week I was in Nova Scotia to lead a mission in St. John the Baptist parish in New Glasgow. A great experience with truly wonderful people. One evening I went out for dinner. Somehow the conversation with the restaurant's server turned to the rather large question of life's meaning. Using a very striking turn of phrase, she observed that many people today seem quite intent on becoming "the richest guy in the cemetery". Seldom have I come across a more poignant manner of describing the futility of materialistic pursuit as the only thing that matters. Sadly, her observation is probably very accurate. For many, meaning in our day is discerned solely within a this-worldly context. This turns us in upon ourselves and drives us to pursue illusory goals, which leave us profoundly unhappy as we discover their inability to fulfill our deepest longings. The context has to shift. When we place life's achievements against the stark reality of death, we soon realize that there has to be something more than becoming the richest guy, the best athlete, or the most beautiful person in the cemetery.
Of course, there is more. This comes immediately to view when we discern meaning within the context given by Jesus. That framework is made clear with the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, celebrated yesterday. On that solemn feast we commemorated with joy his return to the Heavenly Father from whom he had come to earth in his Incarnation. Jesus is the Son "who is close to the Father's heart" (John 1:18), and who came to us both to make the Father known and to lead us back to Him. The First Preface for the Mass of the Ascension speaks beautifully of this mystery: "Mediator between God and man, judge of the world and Lord of hosts, he ascended, not to distance himself from our lowly state but that we, his members, might be confident of following where he, our Head and Founder, has gone before." In his Ascension, Jesus returns to the Father to prepare in heaven a place for us so that we might be where he is forever (cf. John 14:1-3). This is the mystery that gives ultimate meaning to our lives. From that meaning derives true direction and hope.
The "richest guy in the cemetery"? I think not. Jesus invites us to set our sights higher, infinitely higher, than that! He calls us to have as our goal eternal life, and summons us to weigh all of our decisions and make our every choice with that objective in mind. This is not to say we do this on our own. No, we need the love and mercy of Jesus. He alone is the way to the Father (cf. John 14:6). Only he can bring our hope to fulfillment. As we prepare our hearts for the celebration of Pentecost next Sunday, let us pray that the gift of the Holy Spirit keep us united to Jesus so that, in him, we shall one day see the Father and be fully satisfied.