January 1st, 2002
Dear Friends and Benefactors,
So the great and good God has given to all of us to begin another calendar year. How quickly the years go by! As the Psalmist says (LXXXIX, 6), "In the morning man shall grow up like grass... in the evening he shall fall, grow dry, and wither".
Life speeds by, and its swiftness can be a heartbreak. We can live long enough to get to know and to long for all there can be of goodness and beauty in this life on earth, but if death cuts off everything, then how can this short life fulfil the longing it has awakened? As the unbelieving poet said, "We learn to love, only to die". Then the disproportion between the light of love and the darkness of death looms so large, the tension becomes so unbearable and the heartbreak so senseless, that men must either defile the love or disbelieve in the death. But nothing is surer than death at the end of this life, so whoever refuses to defile love is bound to believe in further life after death.
That is why many souls that may not believe in God still believe in a life after death. Or they arrange some kind of deity in their minds to sustain on their own terms whatever life after death they want - how easily we human beings come to believe what we want to believe! Catholics on the other hand know the truth. Nor can they unknow it for as long as they do not lose the Faith. This life is a mere trampoline on which we jump a few times in order to spring into eternal life - upon the terms of the living God! Here at full length is how the same Psalm LXXXIX frames our earthly existence (translation from the Revised Standard Version, with headings added in italics):-
The greatness of the Everlasting God.
1-2 Lord thou hast been our refuge in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or even thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.
The smallness of man and the nothingness of time.
3-4 Thou turnest man back to the dust, and sayest, Turn back, o children of men!' For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.
The brevity of man's life on earth.
5-6 Thou dost sweep men away; they are like a dream, like grass which is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
The sinfulness of men before God.
7-8 For we are consumed by thy anger; by thy wrath we are overwhelmed. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.
The fewness of years beneath an angered God.
9-11 For all our days pass away under thy wrath, our years come to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are threescore years and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone and we fly away. Who considers the power of thy anger, and thy wrath according to the fear of thee?
Concluding appeal for God's light and mercy.
12-14 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on thy servants! Satisfy us in the morning with thy steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Coming from God to go before God, in a time-frame determined by God, we are to flee the sins that incur His anger, begging mercy for the sins we still commit, so as to live and die in His love, for all of which, as He determines, 70 or 80 years are enough. And then eternity.
Eternity! The thought to overwhelm all other thoughts! A thought that will not get into our little heads. Unending life, life without end, upon God's terms, which exclude mediocrity - no mediocre hell or heaven, but, for all who have reached the age of reason, an eternal horror or bliss, each beyond all powers of imagination! The thought MUST get into our heads! "So teach us", O Lord, to number the days of AD 2002 "that we may get a heart of wisdom"!
An eternity to depend on how we spend these brief days of ours on earth. Then - a first consequence - what is - or what is not? - each single day? Each moment of our lives moves, in a time-frame appointed by God, towards that moment when we come before His judgment-seat, by when He has mysteriously determined that we have lived long enough to make our choice between living for ever with Him or without Him. Moment of death, in which no soul will be able to accuse God of not having given it enough chance to make that choice; moment of God in which every soul will see the simultaneous justice and mercy of God in the fixing of that moment.
Then certainly God gives to no soul any moment of its life for any other purpose than its building of that choice. Yet looking around us today and seeing the mass of souls leading their lives heedless of God, we might wonder how this can be so. How can such souls be building a choice of which they appear to be so completely unaware?
We come to a second consequence of an eternity depending on our brief stay on earth - souls cannot be as unaware of God as they may like to appear. God is just, and cannot possibly consign a soul to eternal Heaven or Hell for a choice of which that soul is unaware. Therefore deep down, the soul is aware. And since life is so short, then, logically, at each moment of their fleeting lives souls must be aware. If God is apparently nowhere in their lives, they must be continually shutting him out. Then where is He?
He is infinite Goodness. He dearly wishes all souls in Heaven. He came down from heaven to die on a Cross to take us all back with Him to Heaven. But He created us with free-will, and as St. Augustine says, He who created us without us will not save us without us. So he will not save us unless we freely want to be saved, and if we do not want it, He will not take away our free-will, nor will He disconnect the eternal consequences from our free choice, however evil.
But to each of the souls refusing Him it is logical that with a divine tact and delicacy He will be appealing each day with graces to draw them towards Him, graces occasionally heavy but often so light as to be almost unnoticeable, because otherwise they would serve merely to increase the damnation of the souls refusing them. Therefore with what wisdom and care for each individual God must choose these graces, and down what a variety of unexpected channels He must send them to us, we poor mortals can only imagine. But the justice and goodness of God, the brevity of life and the length of eternity together make this conclusion inescapable: even in today's world, souls know what they are doing. If they fall into Hell, it will only be because they wanted to!
And this is because our loving of God or our refusing of God is taking place at a level deeper than meets the human eye. Obviously mere words are not enough to prove that we love God - "Not every one that saith to me 'Lord, Lord' shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven" (Mt. VII, 21), is Our Lord's own warning. And even actions seeming outwardly good to others or to ourselves may not seem so before God. As again St. Augustine remarked, how many souls are in the Church that are not of it, of it that are not in it. Catholics can turn into Pharisees. Catholics can make the worst of Pharisees.
For "The heart of man is perverse above all things, and unsearchable, who can know it? I am the Lord who search the mind and try the heart, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings" (Jer. XVII, 9, 10). That is why, since even if we wish to see our sins we may not see them all, the Psalmist prays to God to uncover to us our own souls - "My iniquities have overtaken me, and I was not able to see" (Ps XXXIX, 13). And "Who can understand sins? From my secret ones cleanse me, O Lord" (Ps XVIII, 13).
But, as the Irish proverb says, "The help of God is closer than the door". And for every two verses from the Psalms declaring our perversity, there are two dozen declaring the mercy of God.
Divine Lord, you have brought us to the start of a new year, which is already slipping away. Each moment of it will be a gift from Your hand. At each moment You will be offering Your help for me to save my soul. But my heart is perverse above all things, by Your wrath I am overwhelmed. Soon I fade and wither, soon I am gone and fly away. Teach me to number the days of this year so that I may get a heart of wisdom. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy! Let Your mercy be upon us, as we have hoped in you! In You, O Lord, have we hoped. Let us not be confounded forever!"
Many thanks, dear friends, for all your generous support of the Seminary, both at Christmas and throughout the last calendar year. We are always grateful, even if not every letter says so. May every moment of your New Year be fruitful for God!
Most sincerely yours in Christ, <
+ Richard Williamson