A personal Lenten reflection on (of) hope
Then (God) said to (Ezekiel), “Prophesy to these bones, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord’” (Ezekiel 37.4-6)
Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out (John 11.43b-44a)
At 70, one becomes wise. (At least, one knows more how to pretend to be wise!)
One aspect of my wisdom, my awareness of reality, is my mortality. One day, I will die. Yet I also perceive that my dying is not limited to the end of my earthly existence.
In the strictest sense, dying begins when living begins. Birth inherently signals the inevitability of death. And, in the act of living, there are “little deaths” or what Karl Rahner called “dying in installments.” Whatever, and the list in endless, makes for suffering and loss, sorrow and pain of flesh or spirit:
Deaths of loved ones
Tribulations of peoples elsewhere and everywhere
A critical issue is how to respond to these inescapable elements of existence. My choices?
I can protest, crying out in anger.
I can despair, in stoic, silent resignation.
I can cling cynically to all that has not been taken from me. Yet.
I can accept, even with uneasy ambivalence, the assaults and insults of existence, and, in that acceptance, perceive a possibility of resurrection to new life.
By “new life”, I don’t mean a “better” life of blissful forgetfulness of all past pain, an end to all threat of harm or loss, and fulfillment of all dreams. This would be nice, but impossible. By “new life”, I mean a “fuller” life of growth in my grasp of meaning (the sense of things) and mystery (the nonsense of things, literally, that which is beyond the reach of my reason) of myself, others, and existence itself.
And, in my wisdom, one thing is necessary to behold new life within everything that assaults and insults our human experience. Hope. Not wishful thinking or, worse, delusional naïveté that sees things that are not there. Hope is a radically counter-intuitive expectation, which, refusing to absolutize the present, will not believe that all that can be seen is all that is. Hope can see, within the here and now of the present, the horizon of possibility.
By hope, Ezekiel stood amid a valley of dry bones and prophesied new life. By hope, Jesus stood before a tomb of death and called forth new life.
Daily I…we die by installments. How we choose to respond is a matter of life and death. Dare I…we, do I…we hope?
© 2023 PRA
Illustrations: Ezekiel and Dry Bones & Raising of Lazarus
 Karl Rahner, SJ (1904-1984), German Jesuit priest and theologian
2 thoughts on “Dying and Living”
Thank you Paul!! Thank you for the clarity that We are closer to dying every day from the day we are born. I truly appreciate how you laid it out. Sometimes I think I try to get the most out of each day because I know I am one day closer to my death here on this earth. I’m saving this one!!
Loretta, I often — every day and a number of times a day — think about my dying. This has been true for me for a number of years. I am not entirely sure why I reflect on death so frequently.
In one sense, my focus on death is realistic (for death happens to all of us and, as Jan Hoffman used to say, “No one gets out of life alive” and “Once you’re born, you’re done for!”). In another sense, as one who for long has been aware and, over time, has grown comfortable with his inner shadow-self, his dark side, my contemplation of death and dying is an expression of my native, inherent morbidity.
Of what I am certain is that I do not desire to die. However, I am aware that immortality (and, here, I mean living forever in the flesh) is not possible. So, I seek to make peace with death and, all the while, praying that it doesn’t come too soon and that when it comes, I will still be in and of my right mind.