IT says in Proverbs,
Without a vision the people lose restraint. (Prov 29:18)
In the first days of this Lenten Retreat, then, it is imperative that we have a vision of what it means to be a Christian, the vision of the Gospel. Or, as the prophet Hosea says:
My people perish for want of knowledge! (Hosea 4:6)
Have you noticed how death has become a solution for our world’s problems? If you have an unwanted pregnancy, destroy it. If you are sick, too old, or depressed, commit suicide. If you suspect a neighbouring nation is a threat, make a pre-emptive strike… death has become the one-size-fits-all solution. But it’s not. It’s a lie from the “father of lies”, Satan, whom Jesus said was a “liar and a murderer from the beginning.” cf. John 8:44-45
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
So Jesus wants us to have life in abundance! But how do we square that with the fact that all of us still get sick, still grow old… still die? The answer is that the life Jesus came to bring is a spiritual life. For what separates us from eternity is a spiritual death.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6:23)
This “life” is essentially Jesus. It is God. And It is conceived within our hearts through Baptism. But it has to grow, and that is what concerns us in this Lenten Retreat: bringing the life of Jesus within us to maturity. And this is how: by bringing to death all that is not of the Spirit of God, that is, all that is of the “flesh”, that which is carnal and disordered.
And thus, as Christians, we can speak of a “good death.” That is, a dying to self and all that keeps the life of Christ from growing within and possessing us. And that is what sin prevents, for “the wages of sin is death.”
By His words and by His life, Jesus showed us the way to eternal life.
…he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:7-8)
And He commanded us to follow along this Way:
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. (Matt 16:24)
So death is a solution: but not the willful destruction of one’s body or another’s, rather, the death of one’s own will. “Not my will, but yours be done,” Jesus said in Gethsemane.
Now, all of this may sound dreary and depressing, a kind of morbid religion. But the truth is that sin is what makes life dreary and depressing and morbid. I love what John Paul II said,
Jesus is demanding, because He wishes our genuine happiness. —BLESSED JOHN PAUL II, World Youth Day Message for 2005, Vatican City, Aug. 27th, 2004, Zenit.org
While Buddhism ends with the emptying of self, Christianity does not. It continues with the infilling of God’s life. Jesus said,
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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. (John 12:24-26)
Do you hear what He is saying? The one who rejects sin, who seeks first the Kingdom of God rather than one’s own kingdom, will always be with Jesus: “where I am, there also will my servant be.” This is why the Saints were so infectiously filled with joy and peace: they possessed Jesus who possessed them. They did not shy away from the fact that Jesus was and is demanding. Christianity demands self-denial. You cannot have the Resurrection without the Cross. But the exchange is literally out of this world. And this, really, is what holiness is: the complete denial of self out of love for Christ.
…holiness is measured according to the ‘great mystery’ in which the Bride responds with the gift of love to the gift of the Bridegroom. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 773
Yes, you exchange your life for Christ’s, just as He has exchanged His life for yours. This is why He chose the imagery of the Bride and Bridegroom, because the happiness He intends for you is the blessedness of union with the Holy Trinity—a complete and total self-giving of one to the other.
Christianity is the path to joy, not sorrow, and certainly not death… but only when we accept and embrace the “good death.”
SUMMARY AND SCRIPTURE
We must deny the passions of the flesh and repent from sin in order to find the happiness God desires for us: His life living in us.
For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Cor 4:11)
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|↑1||cf. John 8:44-45|