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Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Our View of this World

I recently read the book Things Worth Dying For: Thoughts on a Life Worth Living by Archbishop Emeritus Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap. (New York: Henry Holt and Company. 2021). Reading it has led me to share some thoughts about how view death affects the way we view life.

Referring to the ancient philosopher Socrates, Archbishop Chaput writes, “He said that his philosophizing was best understood as a preparation for dying” (9). Many people do not like to talk about dying as they find it too depressing. However, I think Socrates makes an excellent point. It is not that our whole life is about death. Rather, how we view death affects the way we view life. Is death something to be avoided? Is it an end or a new beginning?

In Isaiah 25:7-8a, we read “On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations. He will destroy death forever.” The veil of which he speaks is death. If we see physical death as an end to our existence, it keeps us from seeing beyond physical death to eternal life. If all we see is life in this world, it affects all our life choices. We will make decisions based solely on what we experience in this physical world. However, when we believe in the resurrection to eternal life, it changes our priorities. The things of this world are not so important for as Paul writes in Romans 8:18, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.

Knowing and believing in the resurrection to eternal life should give us courage in this life to put God first in our lives. However, as Archbishop Chaput writes, “Obviously our courage needs to be guided by prudence” (12) and we should not be “too eager for martyrdom” (12). When led by the Holy Spirit, we need to be willing to speak up for our faith but sometimes “Avoiding situations that force us to state our convictions can sometimes be the prudent course of action” (13, cf. my article “Our Weapons Against Evil” and Fr. Longenecker’s sword #8, silence).

What did Peter and the other disciples do when Jesus was arrested? They dispersed in fear but doing so led to them living on in this world. Then, they received the Holy Spirit and proclaimed the gospel. We ask God to give us the courage to know when to speak up and when we are called to speak up, the words to say.

The martyrs are those who have died for their faith. They can be an inspiration to us. On the other hand, as Archbishop Chaput writes they can, “frighten us as much as they inspire us” (14). We might be afraid to die. The thought that we might have to die for our faith might frighten us. It should make us think.

How we view death and what comes after it affects how we face death. If death is a final end, then it is something to be avoided. However, if death is something noble, as is Jesus’ death on the Cross as “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13), death has value. If we look beyond death to eternal life, there is something greater to come in eternal life.

The way people at things and faith has changed. Archbishop Chaput writes, “For many centuries, man’s grandest buildings were tombs and temples. A civilization’s main concern was honoring its gods or its dead, or both” (27). A few sentences later Archbishop Chaput continues, “Cities today are different. We can build higher, faster, and more lavishly than any civilization before us. But the signature buildings and public spaces in New York or Shanghai have a different purpose. Our temples of glass and steel are full of stores, office space, and elegant restaurants. Our focus isn’t divinity. Nor is it our dead ancestors. Our primary concerns are work and play, getting more money and spending it. We avoid dwelling on death, or the afterlife, or the dead themselves. We prefer to ignore them” (27-28, italics my emphasis).

The priorities of the world have changed. What is your greatest priority? Does God come first? Does faith come before work and play? Remember Jesus died so that you may live. He rose to reveal true life for as Archbishop Chaput writes, “The Resurrection clarifies the meaning of life, and therefore the meaning of death” (31).

Returning to the topic of martyrdom, we might ask ourselves is it better to live or die. Paul offers some important words here, “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, [for] that is far better. Yet that I remain [in] the flesh is more necessary for your benefit” (Philippians 1:21-24). If we die in faith, we go be with Christ. This is what we seek. However, if we continue to live in the flesh, we can continue the share the gospel, to share the good news that Jesus died and rose to lead us to eternal life.

This leads us back to my earlier question, is death an end or a new beginning. Archbishop Chaput writes, “Christians believe that death is not just the end of pain but the beginning of an endless joy, not just the loosening of burdens but a new start of endless intimacy with a loving God” (43, italics my emphasis). Living in faith, what we experience in this world is preparation for the life to come.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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