QUESTION: My question is about death. Today we see so many people doing everything possible to save or prolong their own lives. Why? As Christians aren’t we supposed to view life and death differently than other people? Why are we doing so much to avoid death when our faith teaches us that death is not the end but the beginning of eternal life?
ANSWER: The above question is not directed toward the medical ethics of “end of life” questions. It is asking a more fundamental question about life here on earth and life in heaven.
Our understanding of the value of this world is an essential component of any attempt to respond to this question. If this world were a thoroughly evil place, why would anyone want to stay here? If, on the other hand, it were a completely beautiful and wonderful place, why would anyone want to leave it?
We learn from Scripture that this world was created by God and is the product of God’s love. At the same time, the human condition we inherit is not as God originally intended, but one with the consequences of sin. As such, we enter the world as part of that human condition, and we are wounded by sin but not worthless.
It seems that we humans understand at our core what all that means. We see this world as the place where we spread the Gospel of eternal life. Our mission as disciples begins here, but life here is not the end. Our real citizenship is in heaven (see Philippians 3:20). Therefore, while we see the goodness and beauty of this world, we are in this world but not of it.
Clearly our faith leads us to see that when our lives end in this world, we are going home to God. Being human, however, leaving this world is often troubling. Most often it is not a question of lack of faith, but a matter of leaving those we love. Some feel there are unfinished tasks, some fences to be mended, and still others want to see the seeds we have planted bloom into the hopes we have for them.
The late Father John Hugo understood this reality at its deepest human level when he wrote about “samples.” He asked us to see within the world “samples” of the goodness and love of the unseen God. But he also cautioned about allowing the samples to obscure the source.
He wrote of a sailor who left his family and went off to sea for a long journey. Because he missed his loved ones so much he permanently bolted a framed picture of his family to the wall of his cabin. That picture was one of the only things that got him through the long voyage. Once arriving home, he gathered his belongings and prepared to leave the cabin. Turning as he left, he looked at the picture on the cabin wall and regretted having to leave it behind. What the sailor misunderstood was that the picture was but a sample of what he was about to see clearly and completely.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.