Sunday, November 6, 2016

Death: The Beginning of a New Awesome Life

Rubens' Resurrection
Sunday’s liturgy of the Word of God focuses on mortality and immortality.

The author of the Book of Maccabees describes the torture/martyrdom of a mother and her seven sons. They stood up for their beliefs and died for them.  They didn't simply go along to get along.

This reading segues easily into the mystery of suffering from a Christian perspective.
Our faith proclaims that hidden in every Good Friday is the glory of Easter.  We believe that the dead body-person of Jesus was transformed into a new awesome reality.  Unlike a mortal body, the risen Christ passed through walls; he could walk along a road and then "vanish." For the disciples, the Resurrection was real, even though they couldn't name his new mode of spiritual embodiment: a new phenomenon in their experience--of another world within the life and power of God.  And that one day will be ours, too.

Meantime, we have our Good Fridays. Our problems sometimes seem to overwhelm us, and we may wonder: where is God? This is an eternal question.  Moreover, as we reflect upon the human situation -- violence, denial of basic human rights in some countries, poverty -- we realize the entire planet is "wounded,"so to speak, and cries out for a healer, a divine healer.  At times suffering results from immoral behavior, from the misuse of freedom.  At other times, suffering results from natural disasters.

But ultimately, suffering is a mystery.  How respond to it?

First, remember that God is always near us, closer to us than we are to ourselves.  God forever seeks to bring us to the fullness of life.  And so chisel in your consciousness the words of Scripture, “Can a mother forget her child and, even if she does, I will never forget you.”

Second, avoid negative judgments about ourselves.  To say, “I deserve it,” is a form of self-hatred.  God loves us unconditionally.

Finally, know that the mystery of inescapable suffering has healing power.  Yes, our “aches and pains,” borne with love, can be redemptive: can bring forth new depths of life in ourselves and in others.  Because the sufferings of Jesus brought forth a new and awesome transformed life for us.

How come to terms with our own dying?

Most of us do not long with St. Paul “to be free from this earthly life so that we can be with the Risen Christ.”  Many pass through Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s stages of death and dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and ultimately acceptance.

Various planners and organizers are encouraging people to begin now drafting their “last letter” to loved ones.  Stanford University even developed a template that highlights important gifts we leave behind:  love, faith i God, hope of eternal life, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude.  The gesture is a gift for the recipients as well as a task of warm reflection for the letter writer.

In the Christian vision of things, the narrative of Jesus did not end in the tragedy of the cross but in the triumph of the Resurrection.

We expect that the all-good God who continually amazes us, will surprise us incredibly in the moment of our own dying.  Hidden in our own dying is the glory of a new awesome life.

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