Sunday, September 20, 2015

Life and Death and "Letting Go."

This is an exciting week.  Pope Francis is visiting Cuba and the United States!

Dali's Crucifixion
Pope Francis is a friendly and compassionate face for the Church.  Definitely not a “fire and brimstone preacher."

The Word of God raises the eternal problem of evil.  Why do the wicked seem to prosper and the good suffer.  Or to put it another way,  why do bad things happen to good people.

Catholic Christianity proclaims people are basically good but recognizes tensions -- pulls between self and others, rational and irrational, responsible and irresponsible.  Christianity calls this human condition “original sin.”  Quite simply it's a lack of relationship with God, a fall from grace as described in Genesis: man and woman hid from God.

Jesus, the Word made flesh, re-established our relationship with God.  We are by grace what Jesus is by nature: sons and daughters of God our Father.

But we also are mortal.  Our lives are fragile and transitory -- the bible repeatedly emphasizes this theme of mortality.

In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus speaks about his own mortality.  Yes, he challenges us to be servant leaders., We live to serve. But he also predicts his own passion, death and resurrection. In this, Jesus reveals a new, indescribable transformative life for us.

Jesus in the Gospel brings us face to face with his dying as well as our own dying.

Death is a fact of life.  And the experience of death today is different from even 100 years ago. Today some people may die in their 90s or 100s in hospitals or nursing homes or hospices.

A best-selling book “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,” written by a surgeon, questions whether employing medical technology to lengthen life at the expense of a quality life is the right thing to do.

The author describes three patterns of decline:  the first results from an incurable disease; treatments may lengthen that life but eventually the body wastes away.  In the second pattern, a chronic disease, such as emphysema, is treatable but repeated relapses eventually siphon the life out of that person.  And finally there’s the pattern of old age called “frailty”: the gradual “decline” of bodily systems.

The question becomes: when to “let go.”  The author asks: why submit the dying to the full panoply of procedures only to see them merely exist in institutions and lose completely their independence.

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote a book titled “Death: the Final Stage of Growth.”  The title leads me to the Christian understanding of death.  The foundation of that understanding is Good Friday/Easter.

The story of Jesus did not end in the tragedy of the cross but in the triumph of the Resurrection: transformation into an indescribable heavenly reality. That is our true destiny:  life in relationship with God forever.

There is a darkness about death.  Yet, in the Christian vision of things, we can expect that the Spirit of God who continually amazes us, will surprise us in the moment of our own dying with a new indescribable heavenly reality which St. Paul captured magnificently in these words:

“No eye has seen, or ear has heard, no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

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