Yesterday was a day full of spiritual drama. On the one hand, good news came telling of the return to stronger health for Father Pat. On the other, the story of Sister Claire Odette leaving her Earthly abode for the other side. Father Pat is several years older than Sister Claire. He is the one who is on the road back to health from a long distance down into the pit.
Furthermore, on the same day I received an email from a family that has a long list of human deficiencies that cause them to exercise a high degree of holy patience along the road of life. They need our prayers. The mother and father are no longer young (70 +), the daughter is 40 + and has been in poor health all her life. The mother is in the "spare parts" season of her life. Things like artificial knees, artificial eye lenses to correct cataracts and who knows what else.
These are the physical challenges that we face. We don't always put the emotional and psychological sufferings that we endure in the life threatening category. We know that it is possible to live for a long time with neurological and mental abnormalities. We also know that it is possible to live a long time with "mechanical" problems like arthritis, rheumatism, Muscular Dystrophy and other such "discomforts."
Every year at about this time I find myself reflecting on the mystery of life. I have done this for a long time. I was still quite young when I came face to face with the death of a beloved person. I have written many pages of meditative thoughts about the relationship that we have with the mystery of life and death. It most often encroaches on my life during the month of November when the Catholic Church celebrates the mystery of life in stark terms. It starts off with All Saints Day, moves to All Souls Day and moves through the month celebrating those who have gone before us. We honor them and we pray that they rest in peace. We also can't forget that we someday are going to be among them. We know that life doesn't end at terrestrial death. It just changes form. The Bible reminds us that it participates in the mystery of the grain of wheat that cannot fructify as long as it does not first die in the ground. "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." [John 12;24] We live with that. We are reminded of it yearly. We know that the mystery of life includes the mystery of death.
We respect our earthly life because we believe that an earthly life well lived prepares us for a glorified life in the presence of Almighty God. We respect life because we believe that it is a gift that only partially belongs to us. It belongs to God too and He expects it to fructify so that it can become a part of His Eternal Community. The more deeply we respect life, the happier we are. The more intensely we live life, the more we come to resemble the Creator who gifts us with it. The more righteously we live life, the more deeply we come to appreciate the divine mystery that our life mirrors while we are here on earth.
This is the Catechism of the month of November. This is the Catechism of Discipleship. This is the confrontation that Jesus Himself presented us when He said,
"24 ... 'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.
25 Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.
26 What, then, will anyone gain by winning the whole world and forfeiting his life? Or what can anyone offer in exchange for his life?
27 'For the Son of man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will reward each one according to his behavior.'" [Matthew 16, 24 - 27]
November is the 12th month of the Calendar that the Catholic Church follows in its prayer life. December is the first month. Every year before we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, we celebrate the mystery of our personal 12th month. We celebrate the end of life as we know it as we stand before the light of the New Dawn. We stand in awe at the promise of the new life about which we know only through the eyes and the mind and the heart of Faith. This is what we do every single year. Every year we Catholics have the privilege of practicing dying and peeking into the mystery of the transition from this life to the one that Jesus promised to those who would not prize the life that they have more than they would come to prize Him.
Get ready. On the very last Sunday of the Catholic Year, we will hear the story of Christ the King. On the very first Sunday of the Catholic Year we will hear the story of the end of the world. Everything that you have read before getting here explains why Catholics do this. It is the Catechism of life and death. Earthly life ends and is transformed so that pure spiritual life can begin. It is the Catechism of the reality of Discipleship. We are all invited. Every single year the invitation is made. Over and Over again, we get invited. Why do so many choose not to RSVP?
If we really believe this, why do we cry at funerals?