Saturday, November 6, 2010

Literacy on the Most Important Matters II

“Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.”

-Hebrews 2:14-15

After my conversation with the coach over the loss of his son, a second thought came to me: Given the duration and permanence of heaven (or hell), a Catholic would expect to hear more about it in conversation, in teachings or in sermons. After all, if we intend to spend eternity there, we should give it some thought. But in order to know something about heaven- and in order to talk about it -we first have to think about heaven. Eternal happiness, according to the Saints, should occupy our thoughts throughout the week and be the content of our meditations. If heaven is given equal consideration to any future event we normally plan for- such as a vacation, a career or a wedding –then it is something that can be eagerly anticipated. When life is understood in light of eternity then death itself ceases to be perceived as the end of all that is good.

Perhaps, this is the reason why heaven- as well as hell -is rarely addressed even among Christians: And the reason is that the only way to get to heaven is to first pass through the Gates of Death. Naturally, we wince from death as if it is some alien intruder taking away something that can never be retrieved again. As such, death is regarded as something completely foreign to us; an enemy, if you will. But the fear of death leads to a kind of slavery (Hebrew 2:15); or at least a handicap which inspires a very conservative approach to life. If this life is all that counts, then we tend to hoard earthly goods for fear of losing them forever. We take fewer risks and we even love less because of those risks. Every day that passes is one day closer to the end. And for that reason we are constantly in a hurry to accumulate as many experiences we can. Youth is esteemed as our best days. Wisdom and nobility that used to come with old age is overlooked and under appreciated. Indeed, the ultimate insult is to call a person “old.” All this because death marks the end to all that is worthwhile in life! But grace bids us to think otherwise.

St. Ambrose, a Father and Doctor of the Church, said that “We should have a daily familiarity with death, a daily desire for death. By this kind of detachment our soul must learn to free itself from the desires of the body. It must soar above earthly lusts to a place where they cannot come near, to hold it fast. It must take on the likeness of death, to avoid the punishment of death.” Ambrose continues: “It was by the death of one man that the world was redeemed. Christ did not need to die if he did not want to, but he did not look on death as something to be despised, something to be avoided, and he could have found no better means to save us than by dying. Thus his death is life for all.”

Words which seemed so familiar and dear to the early Christians, are, quite frankly, strange and outlandish to twenty-first century Christians. But do they need to be if death is portrayed as a vestibule to heaven?

Concluding remarks on the next blog-