Gabriel Marcel wrote those words and they speak of more than simple romance. Inside the human family, especially inside the Body of Christ, to love someone is to help him or her enter eternal life. What we bind on earth, Jesus assured us, is also bound in heaven, just as what we loose on earth is also loosed in heaven.
What’s meant by this?
For Christians, in the Incarnation, God takes on concrete flesh, a body here on earth. We call this the Body of Christ and it’s enfleshed in Jesus, the historical God-man who walked on earth for thirty-three years; in the Eucharist, which we hold to be the Body of Christ; and in the community of believers, the church. Each of these is the body of Christ.
Thus to receive the Eucharist or to touch the community of believers is to be touched by Christ, just as surely as if we had been touched by Jesus himself. And that touch is what heals us, forgives us, and links us to the community of salvation.
If this is true, and it is, then it is also true that when we love each other here on earth, we also hold each other in grace and bind each other to the community of salvation. Simply put, if we are inside the community of grace and we love someone, our love for that person is the cord of grace and forgiveness that helps connect him or her to salvation. As long as that person is connected to us in love he or she will never be outside the community of salvation. Put crassly, if we are inside the community of grace and we love someone, unless that person positively rejects our love he or she cannot go to hell. When we love someone we do say: “You at least will not die!”
Partly this is mystery, though partly it can be understood inside our ordinary categories of love and relationships.
Karl Rahner once explained it this way: Our love for each other does not just give us friendship and companionship here on earth, important though these are. It does something else too for us. It links us to love in such a way that when we stand before God and make our choice, a fundamental choice for all eternity, we stand there already connected in love to a community of grace and therefore much more prone to choose love and God.
Here’s how he puts it:
“As regards to our salvation, we remain dependent on other human beings. This is perfectly obvious, and yet still very difficult to grasp. One might think we are important only for life here and now, or for external things, or at most as regards to the earthly life of the mind. One might think: when it comes to how God stands to me and I stand to God, when we are dealing with the final decision about eternity, when we are dealing with how I ultimately come through when I am completely isolated before the face of God by the remorseless loneliness of my death, then for this question I am one who is completely on my own, left to myself. Then there will remain only God-alone and me; God’s heart, God’s mercy, and my individual freedom of a guilt and a grace that are unavoidably my own.
And yet it is not like this. Everything said above is true, but it is not the whole truth. The whole truth is this: even then we are still part of each other. All persons have their own, inalienable, once-and-for-all freedom, from which they cannot run away, and which they cannot unload onto anyone else. But yet this does not mean that this freedom is an isolated freedom, not even when it is deciding the eternal fate of a human being, or when it is finally shaping a person’s being forever. …
In nature and in grace, therefore, existence is a reality in common. This works itself out in a shared reality of sin and guilt, a shared reality of God’s mercy and God’s grace, a shared reality of origin and goal. But guilt and grace, beginnings and ends, are matters for God. And therefore this human reality in common extends into the sphere of human salvation before God. Human beings are in a communion of salvation and its opposite.”
A priest-friend of mine recently shared with me how he feels loved in certain friendships. He told me: “If I died today, what would be clearest on my mind as I say good-bye to this life is that I’d leave knowing for certain I’m loved!” Given this wonderful grace, how could he possibly choose against love after his death?
The love we experience from each other on this earth will, no doubt, greatly sway our choice when we stand alone before God and have to choose between love and its opposite for all eternity.