Repost: From Ash Wednesday of 2011
"To avoid the confrontation with death is a refusal to live life to the full.”
The great paradox of life is that death is the only sure thing; the only future event we can truly count on. The closer people get to the gates of death, the more sensible they become. Suddenly, a morally dissolute life or the missed family opportunities of a workaholic, in retrospect, is almost always regretted. Indeed, on your death bed, all the time you spent at the office doesn’t seem so important anymore.
For those who face imminent death, what immediately comes to mind as one of the most cherished of recollections is the time he or she spent with the family. During the 9/11 tragedy in 2001, there are countless phone messages left by victims whose highest priority was to say one last time, “I love you.”
Yet, what is more important than saying “I love you” to a spouse, relative or friend moments before death is the conversation we might have with God for one last time on earth. Hence, when America was in the midst of processing the loss of lives, the doors of local churches across the country were pushed open by the multitude so that they could take refuge in God within the sanctuary. To be sure, the nation’s mortality was felt for the first time in a long time. When death is a looming possibility, it awakens the soul to where it comes from and to where it is going. Petty interests and careless living quickly lose their appeal.
God is always relevant when death draws near; even to the most stubborn of atheists. After all, it is the only certain thing in life. As such, the contemplation of life’s end is the beginning of wisdom. When people assume they possess something indefinitely, they value it less. It is only by losing something that we can see it for what it is. “The Gospel confirms this; the only way for a man to gain his life is to lose it, to give it up, to sacrifice it.” This is the greatest paradox of life; yet, it is the least understood and perhaps the most ridiculed one. Nevertheless, it is the crux of the Gospel and the secret to happiness. As Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
Herein lies the essence of Lent. This season of dying to self and meditating on death- especially that of our Lord's -is a rehearsal for the real thing. The more we practice it, the more we see life as it really is and the more we ensure our passage into heaven when death greets us; as we know it will.