When I was growing up, I was in Scouts with a guy who’s claim to fame was that he was something like 154,723rd in line for the throne in England. It’s strange to think about, but if all those people mysteriously disappeared or all died in a freak balloon race accident or something, my friend, by right, deserved to be the King of England!
Talking about being an heir to a kingdom might seem strange to us, but our belief is that we’re heirs in a very real sense – a lot more legitimate than my friend’s claim to succession! We pray in Eucharistic Prayer II that we “may merit to be coheirs to eternal life.” There are two interesting parts worth mentioning here: merit and being coheirs.
The idea of merit in our Catholic faith is something very misunderstood, and as a result, steered away from. Among human beings, it means a general reward or payback owed for the action of an individual. But that doesn’t make sense with God. Merit for us comes from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate himself with us. Anything that we might “earn” or “deserve” by our works of charity for others is first and foremost due to God’s grace. Even when we do something good for others, we believe that it is God’s grace which inspired us to do so in the first place! So the reward we’re given isn’t only because of our generosity to others, but also because of God’s generosity to us!
As for being coheirs, this is a birthright that is given to us at baptism. It’s amazing to think that at our baptism, God radically changed the universe to give us a new identity as his sons and daughters. Romans 8:16-17 tells us as much: “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
Actually, a royal heir like my friend is a good analogy for this. If you think about it, a prince or princess as an heir to the kingdom, doesn’t deserve to be king or queen any more than the gas station worker down the street – but they are given that honor by their birth. Imagine how much more extreme that would seem if the heir was adopted! In that case, it’s not even by birth, but by the incredible generosity of the king or queen.
Well, I’ve got news for you: we are those adopted princes and princesses of the Kingdom of God! And it’s not by anything we’ve done to earn that position, but because of waters of baptism, and the incredible generosity of the grace of God. We’re given the same blessing as Christ, God’s only begotten Son: to be risen from the dead and raised to glory.
One of the greatest things about this is that we don’t have to get rid of 154,722 people to receive this honor – it’s already ours by God’s gift! So as we celebrate the Eucharist, let us give thanks to God for his unbounded love!