Do you want to live?

the-crucifixion-1311.jpg!BlogA vaccine is made up of something that might harm us, but is used in such a way to give us a dose of it so that we might remain well. Homeopathic medicine has the “law of the similars” which says that substances that might cause ill, when used in particular doses, heal. I’m sure you see a theme emerging.

Once I met a woman who was deadly allergic to cats, but she fell in love with a man who was a cat person. She realized that if they were to ever find happiness, she would need a solution. She told me that she would go up to the cats and hold them to her face, breathing them in, causing congestion and asthma. Eventually she said the symptoms lessened, and her allergy was gone. Love and happiness ensued.

We were at a party when she told this story. A few people, despite seeing a young woman of robust good health before them asked why she would risk her life by going head first – literally – into what might have killed her. Her reply was simple – because of love.

Today we are faced with the Cross. The conundrum of death leading to new life hits is before us. Will we take some of the poison in order that we might be healed?

With that thought in mind I find myself going to John 5:6 when Jesus asks a man, “Do you want to be well?” Today I ask myself – do I want to live?

If the answer to either question is yes, I have to do something. No, not the rugged independence of healing or saving myself, but rather the taking of the medicine that might kill me, so that I might live. In this case the medicine is the cross, a sure and certain death, so that I might live. In this context, the question of whether I want to live or not takes on a new meaning.

Of course I want to live. Don’t you? But are we willing to die in order to do so? Today we commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion. Many non-Catholics recoil at our crucifixes with dead, sometimes bloody Jesus on them. Someone recently wrote to me in an email, “The first thing you Catholics have to do is get rid of those awful crosses!”

But no. We are the Body of Christ. The incarnation, which is at the heart of all of this, God made flesh, demands that we, like the woman at the party, inhale deeply the scent of death. The only reason to do such a thing is love, the love of Christ.

What will you choose today? Good Friday after Good Friday, frankly – day after day – I want to be healed, I want to live, but I employ stupendously complicated mechanisms to avoid the cross. That’s why I need to see the whole picture, not seeing just a dead and bloodied man, but seeing open arms and the invitation to love and to life.

The question comes before us today in a special way. What will we choose? Do we want to be healed? Do we want to live? The only response for me is to open my arms, inhale deeply, and go to the cross. Christ is there. Will you be there too?

From Death into Life

(On November 2 the Church celebrates the Feast of All Souls, the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. This is an essay that came to me last week, about beauty, life, impermanence, death, and eternal life.)

1384871_10201644674212350_529133338_nThe air was crisp and cold as I arrived at work that day, a slight breeze that made my cheeks tingle. I shivered slightly and gazed upward as I exited my car, feeling awe as I glanced at the towering maple at the edge of the parking lot. Its shimmering gold and red leaves determinedly clinging to branches that extended like an extravagant and colorful awning over my vehicle.

At the end of the workday a still-blue sky greeeted me, but it was showing hints of dimming, and the breeze had stilled. Pausing at the door, I inhaled deeply and took in the feeling that comes from that certain scent of autumn.  As I walked to my car, I noticed the carpet of fallen yellow leaves at my feet. Crunch, crunch, with each footfall, crunch crunch. CRUNCH. Must have been an acorn that time! It was as if nature had installed an early warning system, to alert my car to my presence.

Looking skyward, I found that the brilliantly colored canopy of maple that had captivated me earlier in the day was a bit more sparse. A bit?! All those leaves that seemed to tightly grip the branches a few hours earlier had finally accepted the decision to let go. The image of them floating down to the ground, like jewels cast from the hand of a generous monarch to the peasants at their feet. At that moment, all I could feel was sadness that the remarkable palette of color that has been spanning the sky for a few weeks was almost gone.

1421635_10201684585690112_2062429808_n-1Almost to my car, with fallen leaves fanning out in every direction underfoot, I heard the words these words in my heart:

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. John 12:24

That gorgeous towering maple has been growing for more years than I can imagine. Once part of a forest, it remains, sitting at the edge of a church parking lot.  The tree, God’s patient and loyal sentinel, continues to keep watch with patience and dignity.

My sense of sadness began to lift as I stood next to my car. The fallen leaves, like the grain of wheat, remind me of the impermanence of one aspect of life, and the eternity of all life. A sense of remarkable beauty, consolation and peace encompassed my being. Life into death into life.

In November the Church remembers its saints and its beloved deceased in a special way. I am grateful for the reminder of how death is a part of life, seen on that day through the lens of fallen leaves, and wheat.