28 May 2009

The Immortality Of The Soul

There is but one Being that is absolutely immortal, One alone that is everlasting, that has no beginning, that will have no end – and that Being is God.

Let us now look at man. What a strange contrast is presented by his physical and spiritual natures. What a mysterious compound of corruption and incorruption, of ignominy and glory, of weakness and strength, of matter and mind! He has a body that must be nourished twice or thrice a day, else it will grow faint and languid. It is subject to infirmities and sickness and disease, and it must finally yield to the inevitable law of death.

Let us now contemplate man’s spiritual nature. In a mortal body, he carries an immortal soul. In this perishable mass, resides an imperishable spirit. Within this frail, tottering temple, shines a light that will always burn, that will never be extinguished. As to the past, we are finite; as to the future, we are infinite in duration. As to the past, we are creatures of yesterday; as to the future, we are everlasting. When this house of clay will have crumbled to dust, when this earth shall have passed away, when the sun and stars shall grow dim with years, even then our soul will live and think, remember and love; for God breathed into us a living spirit, and that spirit, like Himself, is clothed with immortality.

The soul is the principle by which we live and move and have our being. It is that which forms and perpetuates our identity; for it makes us to be the same yesterday, today, and forever. The soul has intellectual conceptions and operations of reason and judgment independent of material organs. We think of God and of His attributes… we know the difference between good and evil. Such a principle being independent of matter in its operations, must be independent of matter also in its being. It is therefore, of its nature, subject to no corruption resulting from matter. Its life, which is its being, is not extinguished and cannot be extinguished with that of the body.

All nations… both ancient and modern… have believed in the immortality of the soul, how much so ever they have differed as to the nature of future rewards and punishments, or the mode of future existence.

Now, whence comes this universal belief in man’s immortality? We must… conclude that a sentiment so general and deep-rooted must have been planted in the human breast by Almighty God, just as He has implanted in us an instinctive love for truth and justice, and an inveterate abhorrence of falsehood and injustice.

Not only has mankind a firm belief in the immortality of the soul, but there is inborn in every human breast a desire for perfect felicity. This desire is so strong in man that it is the mainspring of all his actions, the engine that keeps in motion the machinery of society. Even when he commits acts that lead him to misery, he does so under the mistaken notion, that he is consulting his own happiness.

Now God would never have planted in the human heart this craving after perfect felicity, unless He had intended that the desire should be fully gratified; for He never designed that man should be the sport of vain and barren hopes. He never creates anything in vain; but He would have created something to no purpose if He had given us the thirst for perfect bliss without imparting to us the means of assuaging it. As He has given us bodily eyes to view and enjoy the objects of nature around us, so has He given us an interior perspective of immortal bliss, that we may yearn for it now and enjoy it hereafter.

It is clear that this desire for perfect happiness never is and never can be fully realized in this present life.

Can earthly goods adequately satisfy the cravings of the human heart and fill up the measures of its desires? Experience proves the contrary. One might have… wealth… and yet this happiness would be far from complete; for he would still be oppressed by the desire for greater riches, or haunted by the fear of losing what he has acquired, or being torn from it by death.

Can honors fully gratify the aspirations of the soul? No. Honors bring corresponding cares. The more brilliant and precious the crown, the more heavily it presses on the brow that wears it.

I have conversed with the President and the Pope in their private apartments; and I am convinced that their exalted position, far from satisfying the aspirations of their soul, did but fill them with a profound sense of their grave responsibility.

Can earthly pleasures make one so happy as to leave nothing to be desired? Assuredly not. They that indulge in sensual gratifications are forced to acknowledge that the deeper they plunge into them, the more they are enslaved and the less they are satiated by them. The keen edge of delight soon becomes blunted.

We find great comfort in this life in the society of loving friends and relatives. But how frail is the thread that binds friends and kindred together! The bond may be broken by treachery; it must be broken by death. This thought haunts like a specter, and casts its dark shadow over the social and family circle.

Another source of exquisite delight is found in the pursuit of knowledge. And this pleasure is more pure, more solid, and more lasting than sensual gratifications, because it is rational. But the acquisition of knowledge, though attended with great labor, far from satisfying our desires, only sharpens our appetite for more information, and makes us more conscious of our ignorance. The higher we ascend the mount of knowledge, the broader becomes our view of the vast fields of science that still remain uncultivated by us.

What must be the bliss of those that, for all eternity, will explore without toil the boundless ocean of Divine Truth!

But the greatest consolation attainable in this life is found in the pursuit and practice of virtue. And if there is any tranquility of mind, any delight of soul, any joy of spirit, any pure consolation of heart, and interior sunshine, it is shared by those that are zealous in the fulfillment of God’s law, that have preserved their innocence from youth, or have regained it by sincere repentance. But this consolation arises from the well-founded hope of future bliss rather than from the actual fulfillment of our desires. They rejoice because, though in exile during this short night of time, they hope to dwell in their true country during the great eternity of tomorrow. Take from them this hope, and the sunshine in their heart will soon be changed to gloom.

Now, if God has given us a desire for perfect felicity, which He intends to be one day fully gratified; and if this felicity, as we have seen cannot be found in the present life, it must be reserved for the time to come. And as no intelligent being can be contented with any happiness that is finite in duration, we must conclude that it will be eternal, and that, consequently, the soul is immortal. Life that is not to be crowned with immortality is not worth living.

James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore from 1877 to 1921.