My dear People of God,
We have been celebrating Easter, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! This celebration should renew our faith and our hope and lead us to focus ever more consistently and with greater commitment on the reason for our faith: our eternal salvation. St. Peter put it clearly: “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into a heritage that can never be spoilt or soiled and never fade away.
It is reserved in heaven for you who are being kept safe by God’s power through faith until the salvation which has been prepared is revealed at the final point of time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). Indeed, the destination of our hope and faith is eternal salvation: “and you are sure of the goal of your faith, that is, the salvation of your souls” (! Peter 1:9). Salvation of souls should therefore the principal and supreme aim of all we say or do as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ. That is why the Catholic Church emphasises salvation of souls – Salus animarum suprema lex – Salvation of souls is the supreme law!
The present Code of Canon Law indeed presents salvation of souls as what should guide the mindset of every Catholic. The Church requires us in whatever we are doing as far as the Church is concerned to keep this in mind, “always observing canonical equity and keeping in mind the salvation of souls, which in the Church must always be the supreme law” (servata aequitate canonica et prae oculis habita salute animarum, quae in Ecclesia suprema semper lex esse debet – Canon 1752). This means that the “fundamental law of the Church must always be the salvation of souls” (Commentary on Canon 1752 in The Canon Law, Letter & Spirit, A Practical Guide to the Code of Canon Law by The Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland, p. 971). This fundamental law comes from the fundamental intention of our Lord Jesus Christ who wants all believers in him to seek first the kingdom of God and its saving justice: “Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well” (Matthew 6:33). What are those other things? They are material and worldly things – earthly life, food and drink, clothing and other things of this world.
Of course, it does not mean that as human beings we are not to pursue the things of this world such as bodily health, money and what money can afford, land, building, clothing etc. We are to work for these things for ourselves and for others, especially for the poor and needy. But we must do all with the mindset that these things are passing things and therefore we must pursue them in a manner that will bring us the everlasting gain, that is, salvation of our souls. The great Preacher, Qoheleth presents a very sad picture: “Sheer futility, Qoheleth says. Sheer futility: everything is futile! What profit can we show for all our toil, toiling under the sun? A generation goes, a generation comes, yet the earth stands firm for ever” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-4). Some translations put it as “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity”! Why? Whatever a person acquires in this world will surely pass away from that person. Every human being will die and lose all he or she has acquired. Death is the end of man’s relationship with the earth and all it contains! While death is the end of a man’s earthly life, it is not the complete end of a human being. Death for human beings is a transition from the earthly life to further living in the next world. But then, the life on earth will determine the type of eternal life that a person gets when he or she leaves this earth.
The dead face judgement and the verdict of that judgement is eternal: “I saw the dead, great and small alike, standing in front of his throne while the books lay open. And another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged from what was written in the books, as their deeds deserved” (Revelation 20:12). St. Paul said it also, “It is to God, then, that each of us will have to give an account of himself [or herself]” (Romans 14:12). The way we live in this world will result in the way we will live in the next world after our earthly life and all its material attachments and consignments are gone. Our way of life is written in the book of life. The book is not one that can be destroyed or manipulated. And the judgement will not be like most judgements in this world where corruption and manipulation change the truth and promote lies and corrupt practices. God is the Judge. He knows everything about our conducts and the motives for our thoughts and actions. These are recorded in the book of life. That is why it is necessary to do whatever one does in the way that God approves.
At the end of our earthly life, everyone will be judged as his or her deeds deserve (see Revelation 20:14). The Lord told John, “Meanwhile let the sinner continue sinning, and the unclean continue to be unclean, let the upright continue in his uprightness, and those who are holy continue to be holy. Look, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me, to repay everyone as their deeds deserve” (Revelation 22:11-12).
The reward or punishment is there for everyone according to how the person lived in this world. Those who lived with the mindset of seeking the kingdom of God and its saving righteousness in their thoughts, words and deed will definitely get eternal salvation which is generally called eternal life. Jesus Christ came to the world with the message of eternal life (see John 6:68). Indeed, he said it clearly in his prayer: “Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you; so that, just as you have given him power over all humanity, he may give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to him. And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:1-3). Eternal life is eternal salvation. And this is for all who have been born again with water and the Holy Spirit (see John 3:3), those who have sincerely followed Jesus Christ, living according to his commandments (see Matthew 28:20) and have washed their clothes clean. “Blessed are those who will have washed their robes clean, so that they will have the right to feed on the tree of life and can come through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14). Eternal life is entering into the CITY, the Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of heaven from God. It had all the glory of God and glittered like some precious jewel of crystal-clear diamond” (Revelation 21:10-11). The New Jerusalem is our heavenly home (see Philippians 3:20). It is Paradise into which Jesus Christ promised to take the repentant thief: “In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). This is the place of eternal salvation!
What of people who do not live as people who long for eternal salvation? They will live in this world. They will die like every human being. They will surely face the second and eternal death! Hell is their place of punishment. With Death and Hades, they will be “hurled into the burning lake. This burning lake is the second death; and anybody whose name could not be found written in the book of life was hurled into the burning lake” (Revelation 20:14-15). Hell is a reality. Hell is eternal damnation. Hell is being excluded from the holy city, the Heavenly Jerusalem. Those who are involved in sinful lifestyle are surely on the way to Hell, to stay outside the city of God, the city of salvation: “Others must stay outside: dogs, fortune-tellers, and the sexually immoral, murderers, idolaters, and everyone of false speech and false life” (Revelation 22:15). St. Paul lists those who will not receive the eternal salvation for which Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead: Those who produce the results of self-indulgence – “sexual vice, impurity, and sensuality, the worship of false goods and sorcery; antagonisms and rivalry, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, factions and malice, drunkenness, orgies and all such things. And these, I tell you now as I have told you in the past, that people who behave in these ways will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). We must bring out corruption, stealing, robbery, kidnapping, and other criminal and vicious actions taking place in our society as “false life” and “all such things”! Those who live a sinful life will surely miss the salvation for which Christ came to the world.
Christians, realise what is expected of us and live in a way to receive eternal salvation. The resurrection of Christ assures the resurrection of all those who have faith in him: “For if the dead are not raised, neither is Christ; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is pointless and you have not, after all, been released from your sins. In addition, those who have fallen asleep in Christ are utterly lost. If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are of all people the most pitiable” (! Corinthians 15:16-19). Our life with Christ is not only for this life. Unfortunately, some people who claim to be Christians are primarily interested in the things of this world using the name of Christ to make money and name for themselves. By advertising their miracles and claiming to be working miracles and even using people to falsely make claims of miracles, those people are living false lives. When they face the eternal judgement where truth and only truth can be presented they will tell Jesus Christ, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, work miracles in your name?” Jesus will of course reply to them, “I have never known you; away from me, all evil doers!” (Matthew 7:22-23). Do not deceive yourselves and do not allow people, false prophets, pastors, “miracle-workers” and teachers to deceive you with their “great signs and portents, enough to deceive even the elect, if that were possible” (Matthew 24:24). Religion is primarily for the glory of God and eternal salvation.
St. Paul tells us that our eternal salvation will come from abandoning sin and sinful behaviour and attitude. Being a slave of sin leads to eternal or second death, while obedience to God leads to saving justice. He continues, “Once you were slaves of sin, but thank God you have given whole-hearted obedience to the pattern of teaching to which you were introduced; and so, being freed from serving sin, you took uprightness as your master. … When you were the servants of sin, you felt no obligation to uprightness, and what did you gain from living like that? Experiences of which you are now ashamed, for that sort of behaviour end in death. But, now you are set free from sin and bound to the service of God, your gain will be sanctification and the end will be eternal life. For the wage paid by sin is death, the gift freely given by God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:17-18, 20-23). Christians, take heed and know that you have been called to live a new life (see Roman 6:4; Ephesians 4:22-24). This new life is one that avoids sin and sinfulness and embraces uprightness in imitation of Jesus Christ. Christians who have gone back to sin are called to repent immediately for nobody knows when death will come. With sincere repentance and confession, the Christian will hear, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” That is salvation for which Christ died and rose again from the dead!
There was a time when I enjoined Catholics to add this as our greetings: Salus animarum suprema lex! Instead of greeting people with “Good morning”, “Good afternoon”, “Good evening” or “Good night”, we can greet one another with “Salus animarum” and the person will reply “suprema lex”! This means “Salvation of souls”, and the person will answer “is the supreme law” (Nzoputa nke mkpuluobi bu isi iwu!). This will always remind us of the ultimate goal of our life as Christians, people of faith in God. St. Paul teaches us: “that if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and if you believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. It is by believing with the heart that you are justified, and by making the declaration with your lips that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10).
Faith is definitely source of our salvation. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), “Faith makes us taste in advance the light of the beatific vision, the goal of our journey below. Then we will see God ‘face to face,’ ‘as he is’ (see 1 Corinthians 13:12; I John 3:2). So faith is already the beginning of eternal life” (CCC, no. 163). That is eternal salvation! So, with St. Paul I tell you, my sisters and brothers, the People of God, “so work out your salvation in fear and trembling. It is God who, for his own generous purpose, gives you the intention and powers to act” (Philippians 2:12). Turn completely to Jesus Christ, our Saviour for as St. Peter filled with the Holy Spirit said, “Only in him is there salvation, for of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved” (Acts 4:11-12). May God help us to seek for eternal salvation with our whole mind, heart, soul and body!
Most Rev. Hilary Paul Odili Okeke
Bishop of Nnewi