|01-04-2006 - Traces, n.4
The Death of Death
Death was not part of God’s plan of creation. The God that interests me is the God that is on my side of the problem. My God did not create us for death. He placed within us a heart whose desires are infinite. All of creation points to the Mystery that can satisfy all the desires of my heart
I was recently invited to participate in a panel discussion about the spiritual care of the terminally sick at a “comprehensive care clinic” for those with life-threatening illnesses. The audience was made up of health care personnel and social workers who wondered how best to deal with the psychological and spiritual needs of their patients. The panel consisted of a Jewish doctor, an iman, a psychiatrist, and me.
Being a hypochondriac, I was able to see myself in need of such care, so I could judge how the advice and consolations offered by the other panel participants could affect someone in such a situation. I concluded that it wouldn’t help me a bit.
I thought that the advice offered by the religious leaders and the psychiatrist sought to minimize in some way the nature of the crisis, as if death were just some kind of very serious problem to be overcome by beautiful stories, dreams, and distractions. Actually, their advice made me feel guilty, because I know that I simply would not have the interior strength to rise above it all, so to speak. So I said to them that to me death is not just a big obstacle to be overcome; it is the Mother of All Obstacles! What is at stake is existence itself! I do not want consolations; I want to know that death is not what it seems, that it is not the end of my life as a person, as someone that is not anyone else. “I” want to last forever. I did not make myself this way; I find myself to have been made this way, and if death is really the end of the ability to say “I”–the same “I” that I have always been–then death is an injustice.
But this is exactly what my faith claims: death was not part of God’s plan of creation. The God that interests me is the God that is on my side of the problem. My God did not create us for death.
He placed within us a heart whose desires are infinite. All of creation points to the Mystery that can satisfy all the desires of my heart. God made reality beautiful, so that this beauty would point me toward that infinite Beauty for which my heart yearns. In this kind of world, death is not an obstacle to be overcome; it is a horror to be destroyed. And this is precisely what my Christian faith tells me, that death has been destroyed, that the “death of death” has taken place through the resurrection of one man that really died, Jesus Christ. In Him, the Mystery for which I was created became human in order to embrace and defeat death.
The reaction of my listeners was interesting. Life after death was not a real problem for these religious leaders. What was shocking to them was the claim about the goodness of creation, the “positivity of reality,” as Fr. Giussani called it. And yet, this is exactly the meaning of the victory of Christ over death. It is a confirmation of the “infallibility” of the desires that make up the human heart, and therefore the “infallibility of the positivity of time, of this positivity of our existence.”
This is truly an amazing thing. The resurrection of Christ confirms the infallibility of the human heart as created, the infallibility of the desire for happiness that sustains our lives. Of course, particular desires often remain attached to a distorted image of reality and for this reason the desires of the heart have to be educated and purified in order to find the satisfaction for which we are made. It is Christ’s victory that purifies our particular desires and rescues the infallibility of the heart, thus affirming the positivity of reality.
“Life is beautiful. It is a promise that God makes us with the victory of Christ.” There is a “great reward” in the depth of each reality that the victory of Christ affirms and protects. To witness to the resurrection of Christ is to remind each other of the fruit of this victory in the very being of reality, “sustaining the positivity that makes it reasonable to go on living,” whatever the circumstances (cf. Luigi Giussani, Address to Fraternity Spiritual Exercises, 2004).