The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ashes to ashes

"You are dust, and to dust
you shall return."

Genesis 3:19

Skulls of deceased monks are displayed on Mount Athos.
The inscription reads: "
You shall also become as I am."
(We don't do this at Saint Meinrad, just so you know.)

In his Rule for monks, St. Benedict says that one must “keep death daily before your eyes” (Rule 4:47). The tomb, just as it received Christ’s lifeless body on Good Friday, awaits each and every one of us.

This is not a macabre admonition or an invitation to be perpetually morose. Quite the opposite, as the preceding sentence in the passage from the Rule demonstrates: “Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire.” Like the ancient Israelites, we are sojourners under the watchful and protecting gaze of our compassionate God as we travel to the Promised Land of eternal life through the love of Christ.

Lent is a reminder that the world as we know it is not the be-all and end-all. Something—or, more precisely, Someone—infinitely better awaits us. The joy of this knowledge, derived through faith, fills us with that holy desire needed to live radically here and now so that, as St. Benedict says toward the end of his Rule, Christ may bring us all together to everlasting life.

This is the hope that fills our days with joy without denying our deep sorrow. It is what makes us Christian. When things go terribly wrong, when failure and hardship seem to frame our days, and when people age and die, what we are really lamenting is the brokenness of Creation. We should feel sorrow, because the life for which God created us was not meant to be that way. However, we should also embrace the joy of knowing that in Christ, God has restored all things, and rightly ordered them as they are meant to be.

It is true that from our limited perspective, we cannot fully perceive that right-ordering. In Christ, however, the act has been completed, but is still growing to fulfillment. Similarly, when we plant a flower bulb in the earth during the lengthening shadows of autumn, we know that it will be months before it springs forth from the ground with life and color and fragrance—but its work has begun. The Incarnation continues to this very moment as the Body of Christ grows to maturity in each one of us. Truly, “with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

The moment has been redeemed, and eternity calls out to us from the dark moments just before the dawn. Listen, and from the silence of the tomb, cling to Jesus’ words to his disciples the night before he died: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. You know the way to the place where I am going…I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:1-4, 6).

Lord, I wait for the dawn of Resurrection often in the midst of darkness and death. Life is a struggle sometimes for all of us, and we are overwhelmed by uncertainty amid the passing days. Our hearts long for eternity—for you. However, by keeping death daily before our eyes, we are encouraged to prepare rightly for that moment when we will see your face. Help us along the way—in faith, hope, and love—to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Christ, forever trusting that if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (cf. Luke 9:23; Romans 6:5).


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