The true and gravest danger of the present moment,” wrote Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger shortly before being elected Pope Benedict XVI, is an “imbalance between technological possibilities and moral energy.” Modern man, he explains, works desperately to extend life and create hope by using means that often destroy life and bring despair.
The key word here is “hope.” It used to be that man hoped for heaven, placed his hope in God and lived his temporal life in the light of that eternal hope.
Too often today, man’s “hope” and “meaning” are found in temporal and material things. Political movements. Fine wine. Video games. You name it. This means that man’s hope for what is beyond himself is diverted into many dead ends, including the literal deaths produced by abortion, euthanasia and other “solutions” to man’s material problems.
And so the important questions, “In what should I hope?” or “What is it I ought to hope for?” are rarely asked. And when these questions are raised, they are often answered with things like improved health, longer life, more justice, less hate, more helpful government.
But man is desperate to reach beyond himself, to find fulfillment beyond this world. Which is why the Christian should readily pose questions related to and pointing to true hope: Why do I exist? What is the meaning of my life? What am I living for? Is there something beyond here and now? It is Christian hope, based in the Gospel, that answers man’s questions about his ultimate destiny.
The issue of death is especially significant when asking such questions. And yet it is one of the striking curiosities of contemporary life that man avoids discussing death at nearly all costs. Funerals are often stripped of references to death and man’s inevitable end.
I’ve been to non-Catholic funerals in recent years that excluded all references to dying and death. And I’ve often heard the popular refrain that a loved one “will live forever in our memories,” as though those memories will not eventually die as well.
It is in the face of death, states the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, that “the riddle of human existence grows most acute.” Man dreads his extinction and he revolts against the idea that, after death, he will disappear and be no more. Man “rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which cannot be reduced to sheer matter” (Gaudium et Spes).
Put simply, if death cannot be conquered, there is no real hope. And if there is no hope in a future beyond this world, there really is no meaningful life in this present world. Any vision of life that ignores the reality of mortality cannot be a source of authentic hope.
There can be no meaning to life if there is no eternity. And if there is eternity, there is hope. And if there is hope, there is a source of hope: the risen and glorified God-man who has conquered death.
I don’t hope to go to a funeral any time soon, but, next time I do, I hope to hear about our hope in that man.
Carl E. Olson is editor of