Life and death

Life and death are interesting terms which mean different things depending upon context. In the mortal, physical sense, we understand that the body has life and that life will one day end in a permanent state called death.

On the flip side, few would argue with the scientific fact of life beginning at conception. Many would argue unfortunately against all life being of the same human dignity. They say that some life is of a lower value that can be terminated by the choice of the mother – should she find it to be inconvenient or if it falls short of her notion of perfection. Other life may be too old to “invest” in, a burden on family and society, and best concluded “with dignity” for all concerned.

This great debate is about when life is of value. Is it when conceived or does it vary by the circumstances of conception, at implantation, at a certain point in gestation, upon certain conditions of viability or pain sensing, by gender, at birth or maybe when able to cast votes? Likewise is it over when it is too sick, too old or too depressed? Who decides for that life? These are very, very difficult questions…   unless you are Catholic. In that case the answer is the true one taught by Holy Scripture (the 5th commandment), Jesus and His Church. Life begins at conception and ends at natural death. Simple.

So there is life and there is death. It is a binary thing, a person is alive (putting aside value judgments) or is dead. So what then do we make of this recent Gospel reading:

A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

This is huge! While human dignity is equal, “abundance” is not. It is quality of life right now, but very different from the secular sense of material things, good fortune, family or even health. It is true joy in life through embracing Jesus Christ with our whole heart and trusting in Him above all else. It is living “God’s way,” by His will and not our own.

We see example after example of proud people who live life on their own terms (a secular ideal) — and they are miserable. They may even have great fame, immense power, incalculable wealth…   but not happiness. Perhaps they are of more modest means, chasing the American dream. Priority goes to their family, their house, their job, political ideology, sports, hobbies, and so on. If God is on their list at all, knowing Him and His will are secondary to those other priorities. When His will is known and conflicts, personal reinterpretation readily handles it. God understands – if He is love as He claims to be, then He must yield to the primacy of our will and be completely tolerant and accepting of whatever we want to do, right? If His Church says otherwise, they must be hateful and not know the golden calf god we fashioned. This is delusional, separation from the one, true God and a prideful rejection of the abundant life He wants for them.

You probably know “saintly” people. We often see them as exceptional, as inspired. They are responding to God’s grace in the same call to holiness we all share. We usually refer to saints as those already in Heaven, but scripture uses the term more broadly to include the Church Militant as we poor banished children of Eve struggle to reach it. We are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own” (1 Peter 2:9a). Our happiness right now is directly related to how we embrace that.

This has nothing to do with worldly success. It is also not opposed to worldly success, only that things of the world always and without exception must never come before God. He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

Finally, there is eternal life or death beyond our mortal lives. The good news is there is no death in the sense of ceasing to exist. We all will exist forever. That existence can be independent of God (a/k/a Hell, death), which is simply a continuation of how many live their mortal lives today — or it can be with Him (a/k/a Heaven, life). It is our choice, one which we may taste the fruits of now. It is too late only when our last breath has been exhaled. Why not joyfully accept God’s full gift, in obedience, humility and thanksgiving?

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, beloved.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.

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