Sunday, March 22, 2015

Why do we Christians talk about death so much? (Sunday homily)

One of the striking things you surely noticed 
coming into church this morning is that the statues are all covered. 
Maybe everyone knows why; 
but I’m betting there are at least some who don’t.

So why do we cover the statues?

For one, it’s part of the fasting of Lent. 
We don’t just fast from food; 
you may have noticed there aren’t flowers on the altar during Lent. 
And the music is simpler. 
As we go along, we leave more and more behind.

It’s also a kind of dying. 
Little by little, shedding more and more, 
until we are alone, as it were, with Jesus, in his suffering and dying. 

Why do we talk about death like this? 
In the Gospel, Jesus talks about it. 
A lot of our Catholic Faith talks about it; 
we always keep an image of Jesus, dying on the cross, in front of us. 
Why do we Christians do this?

Some people will say, 
that’s because death is part of nature and the world around us. 

And while that’s a true statement, so far as it goes, 
it ignores something else we Christians believe: 
that God, in the original plan, did not want us to die. 
Death becomes part of this world 
because of human rebellion against God. 

No, there’s a very different reason. 
The reason Jesus talks about dying 
is because of what he teaches us about ourselves. 
That rebellion from God means 
that we have a shallow, shadow understanding of life. 

Rebelling against God doesn’t mean living without God; 
it means replacing the God who actually made us, and the universe, 
with the god of my own will, my own desires, making myself my god. 
And what do you get 
when you have a world centered not on one God, 
but a world of seven billion gods? 

That’s a world of greed, injustice, war and murder. 
And what Jesus came to tell us was this: 
that’s a shadow “life,” unworthy of the word life. 
You want life—real life? 
You have to be prepared to die to what this world thinks is life. 
Die to that—live true life, fullness of life, forever.

I can’t speak for you, but – I like pleasure! I like the absence of pain. 
I like being fed rather than being hungry, 
I like being rested rather than being tired; 
and I like being healthy, and not being sick.

Still, this is where God’s mercy is at work, if you think about it. 
When humanity turned from God to self, 
that’s when death became part of the course of our life on earth. 

I don’t want to romanticize any of this, or minimize suffering. 

But here’s something many of us understand. 

As we get a little older, and our eyes aren’t so good, 
our hearing fades, our body doesn’t do all it used to, 
and we can’t eat like we’re 20 any longer – 
maybe, like me, you have to cut out the caffeine 
because it keeps you up at night, 
and after a certain age, 
a good night’s sleep is not something to take for granted!

My point is, life has a way of humbling us, and teaching us: 
you really aren’t god, you know that? 
And if we listen, and accept the lesson, we grow wise. 

And we are reminded: this life isn’t my destination; 
it’s a part of the journey to something bigger and better. 
What’s truly good in this life is but an echo of what lies ahead. 
It is in letting go of this world that we gain the world to come.

Above all, what we die to is self. 
All the sins we confess, they all come to that. 
When we gossip, it’s because we think what we have to say 
is awfully important; and it’s something everyone needs to hear. 

How many arguments are because we simply cannot imagine 
that how we see things might not be correct? 

When we embrace a mindset that justifies doing something immoral
because of the good we claim to be aiming for…

And if you’re wondering what I’m talking about, 
how about when our government uses torture? 
Or when people seek to conceive a child in a laboratory – 
which in turn led to taking so-called “leftover” embryos 
and destroying them for research? 
Doesn’t it really boil down to this: 
we think we’re entitled to play God, if only for a short time. 
Only a little bit; trust us, we won’t go too far!

We do this because we grow impatient 
with how God is doing his job. 
He isn’t giving us what we want, so we’ll take it!

It might be a good exercise for each of us: 
to look ourselves in the mirror, and ask the question: 
“Who is God?” 
And then tell ourselves: “Not you.”

Dying to self is the very hardest thing we do: 
we fight it from the first word many of us learn – “No!” – 
to our last breath.

The good news is, God put us in a world 
that does a lot to help us learn this lesson. 
Human beings, by design, need each other. 
Love only works with dying to self; 
and then family teaches us that even more. 
We see what our parents did for us; 
then it’s our turn to do likewise.

What did we hear the Lord say in the Gospel? 
“Unless a grain of wheat dies, it remains only a grain of wheat.”

But it’s not just what Jesus said; it’s what he did. 
This is why, as Jesus told us, from before the foundation of the world, 
God planned to come as our savior, and to go to the Cross for us. 

He goes where we go. He goes ahead of us, lighting the way. 
Remember what he told the Apostles: 
I go to prepare a place for you. 

If you lost your focus during Lent, it’s not too late. 
We have two more weeks. 

If you need to go to confession, but have been procrastinating, 
there are plenty of opportunities the next two weeks. 
During Holy Week there will be many extra hours for confession. 

Do I live for me, for here, for this? Or do I want to live forever?

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