Friday, October 9, 2009

Fully Alive

From all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and unprepared,

Good Lord, deliver us.

The Christian is placed in a deeply disordered world. Rather than being oriented towards life, the world “as it is” now is oriented towards death. For many, daily life is lived under the horrors of “violence, battle, and murder.” Indeed, this is perhaps the “norm” throughout the world. Lawlessness, brutality, disregard for life are marks of cultures of oppression which in turn foster “conspiracy and rebellion,” usually perpetuating (rather than ending) the cycle. All of this leads to a deep pessimism about life, leading to Hobbes’ famous dictum: “Life is nasty, brutish, and short.” Once this is conceded, anything becomes possible and even acceptable.

For those of us who live in peace, safety, and plenty this petition can seem almost other-worldly. But, for those who have tasted the bitter cup of violence – and this includes many in our land who have fled here or those who have experienced domestic abuse or lived in a repressive “cult” – this petition is painfully honest. Without deliverance from these things, the richness and goodness of life is nearly impossible. When chaos and brutality reign, Evil seems triumphant, and even the good person may become silent and compliant with Evil’s purposes - becoming agents of evil in the process. The Church must stand against this; it must risk the reprisals of corrupt powers to witness to truth that God alone has the Power. Illegitimate rulers and systems of power may grab the reigns for a season, but they will be “cast down,” in the words of the Magnificat. Each of us has a part to play – tiny or great – in that work of the Gospel. Those who have not experienced such trials and terrors must recover a sense of humility, learning from those who have walked this "way of sorrows" so that their good fortune does not become their undoing.

The final portion of this petition speaks about something often confusing to people in the modern West: dying suddenly and unprepared. For many centuries, the Christian knew that he or she must have one’s “house in order” before leaving this world, for we were placed here to learn and do certain things, and if our “temporal affairs” are not in order, if we have people to forgive, need the forgiveness of others for our own wrongs, or have in some way not “set right” our relationship with God before our passing – then we have failed in a truly lamentable way. Modern people, overwhelmed by the consequences of life-sustaining medical technologies and therapies, often hear these words differently. We sometimes desire to leave the world suddenly, even unprepared. We might say: “How lucky she was, she died suddenly in her sleep” or “he never even knew what hit him.” But this says more about our fears than our faith – and fear is never the place for the Christian to live.

The early Christians knew the secret to daily life: live each day as if it were your last, for in some deep sense, it is. This was not morbid or hysterical; it was (and is) deeply rational, deeply wise. It is the wisdom of the Desert Fathers, the wisdom of the fully mindful and present with God. When we come to see each day as a unique gift, a gift to live fully alive as Christ lived fully alive, then we open ourselves to God’s grace and work of reconciliation. It may be a small advance, or it could be a great one – but it is an advance towards the Kingdom of God, and this is what the Lord thirsts for us when he says “I thirst” on the Cross. He thirsts for our salvation. He thirsts for our completion. He thirsts “for the life of the world."

We who bear the mark of that Cross on our forehead through Holy Baptism may drink from the font of New Life; his thirst has slaked ours; his offering has been made a gift to us. As we pray and labor to serve others that they may know deliverance from the evils of this world, so we, too, must be reconciled and growing in healing, that we may enter the Temple of God in the Heavenly Jerusalem where sin and death are no more. May God deliver us from dying suddenly and unprepared, so that we may continue the work of learning to live freely, preparedly, and fully. For, as St. Irenaeus remarks, the glory of God is the “human person, fully alive.”

For this, Our Lord continues to thirst.

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