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Eternal Lessons from Final Exams

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Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 04/28/15

Not one of us is ever guaranteed another heartbeat, another breath; much less are we guaranteed all of the tomorrows we think we may need to eventually getting around to doing all the things that we ought to do. We always have our human vocation to fulfill and we are always, sooner or later but inevitably on our way to meet God face to face. How might our lives be different if we were always vividly, consciously aware of that?

My late mother used to say, “It’s always better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” Mom was a big believer in being ready for “just-in-case.” I think she would have approved of the devotees of E.D.C. (“Everyday Carry”), those things that you keep on your person at all times, “just-in-case”, e.g., a flashlight, a pocket knife, a first-aid kit, etc. We Catholics might have our own spiritual E.D.C. for spiritual exigencies (e.g., scapular, Rosary, etc.). But I wonder how many of us think of what we need to be prepared for the inevitable and supreme spiritual exigency, namely, coming before God after death. There was a time when speaking of the “Four Last Things” (namely, Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell) was common in preaching and catechesis. Recent years, one can safely say, have not been such a time.

A recent video (with a title that is a bit of clever misdirection) at www.churchmilitant.com explains well the necessity of dying in a state of grace in order to enter into the life of the Trinity in Heaven (which is our human vocation). A carefully-documented account of the Church’s teaching on Hell (drawing upon Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the witness of the saints) can be found here. The content found in both can and should be brought to prayer.

My point is this: For 20+ years, I have marveled at the complete surprise expressed by many students when final exams and graduation, which are scheduled well in advance, actually arrive. Many appear to be startled to have awakened from a dream of endless time and resources and discover in their waking state that they have to give an account of what they have done and what they have failed to do, and that the fruits of their choices will be decisively attributed to them. I pray for us all that we will be less unprepared and unpleasantly surprised when the most sure and consequential “final exam” of our existence comes upon us, and I pray that we all may “graduate” into the eternal life of glory that God has always intended for us. We make our choices—and God respects them. That is the thrilling and terrifying prospect that certainly awaits each of us.

When I write next, I will reflect upon graduation, and whether graduating students are really entering what they often call, “The Real World.” Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

Father Robert McTeigue, S.J. is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus.  A professor of philosophy and theology, he has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and religious formation. He teaches philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL, and is known for his classes in both Rhetoric and in Medical Ethics.

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