Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the November 17, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
Now, here’s a good task to give your children some Saturday afternoon when they’re unusually feisty. Ask them to make a list of the questions they hear people asking during the course of a single day. Questions like, What time is it? What’s for dinner? Where’s the newspaper? What shall I wear to work? This task should keep them occupied for quite some time.
We all must ask thousands of these questions each day. Not because we’re particularly ignorant. It’s just that the answers we get to these questions help us make sense and order out of the day.
There’s another set of questions that comes our way daily, too, but we don’t ask them. They push themselves upon our consciousness: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? Why do I sin? What is my destiny? These “life questions” lie beneath the surface of our consciousness and every once in a while leap through its barrier. We have to address them. The experience can be quite disturbing to the pattern of daily life because these questions don’t have an easy answer. Yet we can’t push them away. We can hide from them, and even pretend they don’t exist, but they don’t disappear. They are the nagging mystery of life itself speaking to our hearts.
The mystery of life becomes more challenging when we are faced with the reality of death. Death is the ultimate reminder of our frailty. We may be as precious as the finest china, but we are breakable. Whether it be the death of a loved one or our own pending death, this reality sobers us and the destiny question forces itself into our consciousness. Death draws into question not only the significance of everything we have done, but even our very being.
The feasts of All Saints and All Souls which began this month’s calendar page make us mindful of this ultimate questioning of our lives. They begin a month of the Church’s special prayer for the dead and give focus to our reflection. They also make us mindful of the transforming power of the Gospel. Without the Good News how would we deal with what appears to be the tragic and senseless end of life? The Gospel of Jesus gives us a point of reference which gives us vision and hope. It affects the way we live, enabling us to listen wholeheartedly to the “life questions” that tug at our hearts. We have nothing to fear and no reasons to hide. In Jesus, not even death itself has a sting.
Jesus was not an “answer man” who came among us to give us some vague assurance in the groping darkness of our lives that there is indeed the possibility of life after death. He did not assume the role of an abstract philosopher, sharing with us divine insights into the meaning and ultimate purpose of life. Such insights are encouraging, but they remain ideas. They have no power to ultimately touch us at that point in our lives where the mystery of life itself has its hold.
Jesus was a great teacher, but no philosopher. Jesus was Jesus – himself, the Word of God made flesh. We believe that God has become one of us in him. The radical significance of this often escapes us. Jesus did not just beam down to planet Earth. God comes in the flesh to us from within the reality of life. Jesus was born of a woman as each of us is born of a woman. That means more than the fact that he had a physical body like ours. It also means that he shared intimately in the human condition. Yes, in his humanness, he asked the thousands of questions a day to help him orient his daily life. The “life questions” also tugged at his consciousness. They are part of the human condition. The wonder of it all is that his divinity did not become an excuse to eliminate them or their pain. Like us, Jesus faced the ultimate questioning of his life. Death was a scary thing for him. We heard this quite definitely in his prayer in the garden the night before his crucifixion. We also hear it in his agony on the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
God did not abandon Jesus, but raised him from the dead. Death for him was not the end, but a change, into fullness of resurrected life. This is the central point of our Christian faith. The Resurrection of Jesus was not an idea, the pained yearning on the part of the disciples that this good man just had to live on in their memories. The Resurrection is an historical fact in the life and ministry of Jesus. It happened! Ever since, the story of Christ’s life cannot be told without it. Jesus is not Jesus without it. The Resurrection is part and parcel of his historical life and the Gospel.
When we were baptized, the Church celebrated our union with Jesus, the Risen Lord. As St. Paul reminds us in his Letter to the Romans, if we were baptized into his death we were also baptized into his Resurrection. Resurrected life is our promise, too! It is our destiny! Accordingly, we are not to live with the fear of pagans who have no hope and for whom the mystery of life is a devastating threat.
This month of November and its traditional focus on those who have died gives us an opportunity for a revival in our faith. What is the destiny of those who have died, “marked with the sign of faith”? Unless these individuals have made free and conscious choices to separate themselves from God, we have every reason to believe that our Christian brothers and sisters enjoy resurrected life with the Risen Lord. God at work in them in Christ is the source of their eternal salvation and fullness of life. During their lives their purpose was union with God. In and through death their purpose remains the same. The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead has made possible a fulfillment of life which, before him, could only be a vague hope of the human heart. Eternal life becomes not just an idea born of Greek philosophy but a reality established by God in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary. His destiny becomes our own!
(Father Savelesky is the diocese’s director of deacon formation and moderator of the curia, and pastor of Assumption Parish, Spokane.)
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