To: (Multiple email addresses may be specified by separating them with a comma)
BY Mark Shea
When we hear
a phrase like “the newest thing,” we generally think of the latest TV show,
flavor of soda, or computer upgrade. Our culture is profoundly interested in
the Newest and Latest. We Americans especially look to the future and have
historically tended to treat it as a kind of Promised Land where we will all go
and live happily ever after with our rocket packs, protein pill dinners, domed
cities and Martian colonies.
In this expectation, we see a
curiously secularized echo of the Christian Tradition, which also teaches us to
live in hope. But for Christianity the object of hope is not progress, but
We are called to “Set your minds on
things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and
your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then
you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:2-4).
This means that our hope is not in
the future, but in eternity with Christ, which is a whole ’nother thing
entirely. The future is part of this world, and this world is passing away. If
you want the quickest and most accurate description of the future, it is that
time when you and all you know and love in this world will be dead.
Now, that doesn’t sound nearly as
appealing as the bright shiny Future promised in the glossy brochures of the futurists
with the Jetsonesque flying cars and the Star Trek
interplanetary multicultural conflict resolution counselors in leotards — but
it happens to be true. And taken together with the rest of the Christian
revelation, it even happens to be Good News.
That may sound weird. But it’s why
the Latin tradition of Christianity speaks of the Four Last Things — death,
judgment, heaven and hell — as the Novissima or the Four
Things. In other words, it’s why Tradition combines the notion of our mortality
with the notion of … well, what do we associate with the New? Youthfulness,
freshness, morning, vitality.
How can it do something so daring?
Because the Christ of paradox is, after all, the One who said that if you try
to keep your life you will lose it, but if you lose your life for his sake, you
will keep it to eternal life.
The world is all about trying to
keep its life. So it prattles on as though you and I are not going to die but
live forever in a sort of eternal dream of the Pepsi Generation. This is
worldly hope, and it leads inevitably to worldly despair. That’s what is
fueling the present movement toward euthanasia. A post-Christian culture that
gives up on God inevitably gives up on real hope. The world says, “If I can’t
have eternal Pepsi Generation happiness then, by golly, I’m going to assert my
power one last time and end it all on my terms!” That’s despair as old and
weary as Adam.
But in Christ, we “die before we
die,” as T.S. Eliot put it. We begin, in this life, to live out what the ancients
knew: that “the love of wisdom is the practice of death.” So Christians
practice wisdom by little acts of death to self and love for God and neighbor
that we might receive, in little bites of living bread and little sips of the
cup of life, the life of God who cannot die.
We start clearing out the rubbish of
selfishness that clutters the soul and furnishing our hearts with the furniture
of our Father’s house.
Of course, none of that is possible
without the help of God in Christ. Indeed, the very ability to turn from self
to Christ for help is itself a work of grace. But it is one that requires our
cooperation, and it is one that has to begin, in however small a measure,
before we die.
For die we shall, sooner or later.
is one of the hard truths the faith confronts us with out of the great mercy of
God. Death is the devil’s greatest triumph, the fruit of sin. But it is also
the key to the victory of Christ. Like a chess move in which Satan stupidly
rushes in his pride and greed to take God’s best piece, so, too, the devil puts
into the heart of Judas the notion to betray Jesus, and all the powers of
darkness rush blindly to put the Son of God to death. And by his very
concession to their will to power, God triumphs by putting our sins to death
with Christ on the cross and then raising him from death to immortal life — and
us with him.
In the world, death is a hole.
In Christ, it is a door to
Shea is senior content editor