The doctor sits on their side of the desk and states, what seems cold but no other way to say it, “Bob, you have six months at best, and so I suggest you get your affairs in order!” What do you do now? “This isn’t supposed to happen to me”, you think to yourself, “I haven’t finished everything I wanted to do, and my kids aren’t even grown yet!”. Seemingly a dark cloud of incredulity surrounds your thoughts and all you can think of is what you’ll leave behind, what you will miss, who will/might miss you, and then the big question, “Is God up there?”. This is a lot to unpackage, well of course it is, you’ve lived a big life up and to this point, now it’s ending. Brief moments of doubt enter your consciousness, “perhaps the doctor got it wrong”. After clinging to this hope, and visiting several specialists, the sentence is confirmed, death at the hands of perceived unfairness and questions of “why?”. Where do you go from here?
Now, let me say a couple of things before I get started. Pain is awful and yet a matter of catharsis occurs at the same time. We have a chance of emptying ourselves for a purer outlook and allow a truth to be revealed. If we are willing to concentrate through the pain on something other than our own immediate suffering, our pain then becomes a prayer either for ourselves or another. I know there are pains unimaginable, and I don’t presume to grasp what horrors people must go through when they are sick, but sickness doesn’t stop time, or conscience, and if these exist we do as well giving us a chance although difficult, still a chance. This prayer is God’s blessings in a faith in action for us. Often, I’ve heard the argument, “If you have such a loving God, then why does he allow pain and evil in this world”. A good question obviously, but one which in its apparent rigidity of purpose fails by trying to encapsulate what is not capable of being contained. Bishop Robert Barron has stated in the past, “It’s terrible……but perhaps is it ingredient in a much larger story?”. What is this story, and how does it pertain to us? Good question, I would say, but one which we’ll never understand, unless we’re willing to accept truth. Also, a question which, we’ll accept truth, but not really know where this truth is leading us, and subsequently the journey Our Lives must take to see this journey through. My wife and I were speaking about the death of a young man, who was my daughter’s age and whose life was cut short tragically in a motor vehicle accident. We said the typical platitudes about how terrible this is, and his family must be suffering (of course meaning what we say, but not truly knowing their pain). Just for the record, I abhor platitudes, until I don’t. In this case, I sat down one evening after watching a video with this child and his friends laughing and talking to one another with no care in the world, and pondered the pain his family must have been feeling at that very moment, captured digitally, but what they would give to hold him was my thought. It was like a swell of emotion came upon me, and in my solitude, and I wept. I wept for the loss of a son, the loss of a brother, and anything which is forcibly taken for no reason at all. Look at the example of Christ, himself, taken before a perceived acceptable time, but still taken at the right time. The mere thought of losing something and never having a chance to regain what was lost is our great mystery, everyone will feel this at one point or another in their life. So, then came the question, “why?”, and like many other people there wasn’t any satisfaction or closure with an answer. My empathy for this family was consuming, and in my silence about the topic over the next several months, as I would think about it in the early morning hours and I would enter a personal question and answer dialogue with myself (silently of course), and it finally struck me one day. Our perception of life is one of our own making. Now, we understand we live, and left to this, we manage to make a life span on average of ~78.74 years. A statistic, a mathematical computation used to explain an average life and project your time. Not bad, probably more accurate than the weatherman.
Why is our perception one of our own making? Because we are mankind, and where there is a will to control something we will try, even obsess until we achieve our goals on some level of control. We try to control everything, we want to eradicate sickness, and make our lives easier in the process, essentially do away with pain. How realistic is this though, Locke wrote about his theory of natural law as being something which can be discoverable through science and reasoning, but God’s divine law was something which can only be attained through revelation of a divine nature. How does a young man, in his teens, have his life tragically cut short in any way pertain to a divine nature or natural law? Simply this, God applies natural law in conjunction with his divine nature. This means, although you are living, to fully realize the supernatural world with which “God is the very nature of being itself” (Aquinas, Summa Theologica), you must cease to exist in a natural world and then and only then can one proceed to a supernatural existence. From this understanding, it is then derived an existential perception of eternal life and only then it puts our Earthly life into context. What is this context? We all must die, and it matters less when or where, but within the context of understanding what our journey was for.
Back to my original point, how would you handle the best/worst news of your life? Within the context as I’ve just explained (not that well, but then that’s what the comments section is for), it’s about understanding, we don’t know the whole narrative, but truth in context is where we search. Faith is meant to be this way, you must believe to move forward in any aspect of your life, and nowhere is this more exemplified than in the paradigm of faith.
Many years back, I was at a funeral, and I looked around at people and there was some whose pain was too much to watch, and others who seemed indifferent. I think these are typical responses, some people are close to a loved one, and lament the loss, and others as a sign of friendship may have shown up to show support for a friend or colleague. Though, the one impression I was most intrigued about was the attitude of the priest performing the mass. He was smiling, and in general excited. He moved around the altar, with exuberance and real fervor for what task was ahead of him. It seemed counter completely especially when he was speaking about the family, and with the family. When I had a chance, to speak with him, I asked about his energy. He simply said this, “today is a day to rejoice in the Lord, we should celebrate the life of our loved one, but even more importantly we should celebrate the life of Jesus who sacrificed everything for us”. Well, I will admit, I said, “ok”, and I walked away from this giving it a little thought, but nothing to keep me awake at night. However, over the years and over the numerous funerals I’ve been to, I’ve notice one definitive point of interest. Very rarely are we following this priest’s direction, but instead, we hang to our misery as if it is the only thing which will get us to where we need. Misery is a circle, which will keep you moving, give you no rest, and never allow you to truly move forward.
Celebrate life, it is such a gift! Look to the general Jesuit maxim, God is in all things, and walk around and look at the general majesty which surrounds every inch of everywhere. God is in this, and in this context, wonder at the amazing complexity, size, and interconnection which binds all things. Now, think if this is God’s gift to us here, and in our Earthly context, what waits for us when we are joined with God?
Six months is the sentence, your affairs are decidedly in order at this point, you’ve notified every one of the predicament, and naturally prayers begin. There are those, who truly love you, and don’t want to see you leave, and barring a miracle, the final chapter plot has been decided. So, what do you do? Where do you go? Who do you talk to? Since you are the final chapter’s author, what will you write? Will it be grand, and be remembered for many years to come, or will it be something quiet allowing your memory to pass with each day? This is up to you obviously, but if you’re not living your life with the determined understanding, this might be your last day, you’re living this life for you and not for God.
For me, my life as a husband and a father are paramount. Making sure I “handle my business” when it comes to loving them, providing for them, and letting them know they can feel safe even when my earthly life is completed. At the same time, I want to give them the tools for life, for love, and for faith. I try to watch everything, to their chagrin, I see everything, and often this is a point of contention. However, I don’t want to miss them, many times I act as though I haven’t seen something, so they will explain it to me, because I receive so much joy when I am included in their lives. I’ll be honest, if I think too long on this, I get a little misty. God is my joy, and he’s blessed me with my wife and children and they are reflective points of his light. Even if my life ended today, I would have regrets about my general life and the poor decisions I chose to make, but not about my family. I think we all do this. So, there is never a good time to die by our personal standards, but we need to transcend our lives as we know them, and move to a higher plane where our perspective is one of objectivity, and our decisions are decisions of love. You will see things clearer, brighter, more colorful than ever before. You will love harder, and you will be willing to care less about what others think and more about what is best as a matter of charity. You will care for things you never once thought were important. Most of all, your focus should be on God, and if it is, you will be prepared for pure love and goodness.
As a man, these were always hard for me to do, not because I was prescribing to any sort of machismo, but just because I’m a man, head strong and stubborn. Now, I still embrace my manhood, as I think all men should, it’s who we are and how we’re made. Though there is a kindness to is, a faithfulness to it, and my desire for a relationship with God has allowed joy to enter my life. Joy doesn’t mean you’ll never be sad, sick, lonely, or hurt in some way or another. What it means for me, is I know what awaits, and I want to be there regardless of anything that happens, the light forever seems to shine. It’s like that afternoon day with a cool breeze and soft sunlight, that never seems to end for me. This joy helps me to see past the superficiality of actions against me (although I haven’t mastered getting upset by these actions, I still recognize them), and gives me a will to understand who I am around (for the record, I don’t always understand, and my wife is living proof of this. I still get her wrong as though I trying to win a competition somehow).
I pray for everyone who reads this, you will find your joy in all that you do. You will find God in everything you see, hear, feel, touch, and smell; happiness is a feeling derived by joy, but just a feeling. Your joy will be because of your relationship with God, so find God! May God bless you and your family!
God is good all the time, and all the time God is good!!!