I am going to die. Perhaps today.
This is a reality that I cannot escape. As a matter of fact, at this point in my life, I have no desire to. But there was a time when that was not the case. There was a time when this idea would keep me up at night. There was a time when I was scared to death of death.
I began reexamining my faith in God and the Catholic Church about seven years ago. I had always been intrigued by religion in general, and I was raised by good and intelligent parents who helped me understand the teachings of Catholicism, but it was a long time before I was able to take ownership of my own faith life. As I went through college, I had honest and challenging conversations with friends and family members that helped me realize that the questions of my heart needed answers, and that those answers could be found in the teachings and life of the Church. I began reading the works of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, and they opened my eyes to the logic and unity of Christianity, to the true beauties of the faith, to the fact that we are called to certainty, rather than some vague belief in a Santa-Claus-God. I wish everyone I know could read Mere Christianity and hear Lewis’ layman’s explanations of truth and faith. Every time I read any part of that book, I set it down thinking, “How could anyone not believe?” One of the reasons that I wanted to start this blog is to share those ideas and arguments with others, or, more accurately, to blatantly steal them and pawn them off as my own so that the six people who read this can praise me as a genius.
But most of all, what those works did was recall to my mind and heart all those dark nights when I would find myself unable to sleep because the ideas of death and eternity were startlingly real. I began to contemplate the fact that I would die, and I did not like that one bit. One way or the other, I needed to figure out if the faith my parents had given me would truly provide the path to eternal life as it so boldly claimed. I needed to know what would happen when I died. I was haunted by the knowledge that this life would end, and I was fascinated by the possibility that there could be another after it, one without the fear and the pain and the longings of this life. I was faced with the risk of my choices, confronted by the idea that my decisions could have eternal weight, startled by the concept that if there was a Heaven, it might not be guaranteed. So I dove deeper into the Church’s answers.
And what I found was not some set of vague moral guidelines, not some quaint myth meant to scare me into good behavior, not some collection of stories that were nice but not really true. What I found was a love story. What I found was A Person. What I found was a God stunningly close, a Creator who lived in the very air about me and who wanted nothing more than for me to go on breathing Him in forever. It was, and is, so beautiful.
But for all the logic and romance and adventure that I found in the Catholic faith, there was one inescapably uncomfortable part of what Christ preached: He continually said that to follow Him meant death. And so for all my searching, for all my thought and prayer and study, I was back to where I started. Even the Catholic Church, the Bride of Christ whom I had fallen in love with and to whom I had turned in order to assuage my tremulous heart that so feared death, was telling me I must die. And as a matter of fact, she was telling me to be happy about it.
As with all teachings of the Church, after much difficult thought and study and conversation and prayer, I came to assent to, rather, revel in, Her teachings on death.
The death of Catholicism is both final and ongoing. In the final sense, Catholicism says that after our bodies stop functioning, there is the possibility of eternal life if we choose it. But in the ongoing sense, the Church was telling me that truly experiencing this life meant I had to die to myself daily. It meant that I had to stop feeding the flames of my lust, that I had to stop giving my body whatever food and drink it demanded at any given moment, that I had to spend my time doing things that were decidedly inconvenient for me. It meant that I had to let go of everything that I liked. It meant that I had to let all my desires and pleasures and plans die.
But what kept me from running from this death was the promise of what came next. Death did not really become less scary to me after learning what the Church had to say; actually, it became even scarier since it became more immediate. But what I found was that rising up in my chest was a feeling, a knowledge, stronger than my fear. Somewhere inside of me, in the deep places where the fear lived, was a wellspring of hope. As I read the Catholic story, as I learned about the Easter Sunday that followed Good Friday, as I learned that those same desires that must die would be given back to me, raised to life in more beauty and splendor than ever before, I found that my fear mattered a lot less. I must die, yes; but this I would die for.
I found that Christ does not take away death: He simply shows us that it is not the end. I found that Christ doesn’t stop our suffering from happening: He just gives it meaning. I found that Christ would not make fear impossible: but He would be the light of hope to cast out its darkness, if only we let Him.
So this is the “Death of Catholicism”. This is my feeble record of all the little deaths that have enriched my life, all of the small pains of sacrifice that have borne the pleasures of my days, all of the crucifixions of my many vices that have led to the resurrection of my few virtues. The whole story of humanity is the story of the quest for eternal life. The whole story of Catholicism is how that life was found through One Death. My whole story is about the little deaths that give me assurance of the life to come. If you read this, I ask you: Die with me. Die for Him. Die, and find life waiting beyond the fear.