Following is the last of a two-part series on the paschal mystery.
Nothing in our culture prepares us to die. Invariably death takes us as conqueror, against our wills. We protest, grow bitter, bargain for time, give in to despair, and are eventually dragged protesting out of life. There is little within us which empowers us to let go peacefully, with some grace, and surrender life in gratitude for what has been and in hope for what will be. This is true not just of physical death, but of all the types of death that impale themselves upon us. Invariably, they catch us unprepared.
In my last column, I spoke of the refusal to cling as an entry into the paschal mystery, namely, as an entry into the kind of death which is an opening to new life and to the reception of new spirit. I want now to illustrate, with several examples, that it is the refusal to let go and to enter death in trust, the refusal to enter the paschal mystery; that is the cause of so much unhappiness, bitterness and despair in our lives. The first example concerns the death of our youth, health and sexual attractiveness. For many of us, long before we have to surrender our lives in death, we are forced to surrender these in a different kind of death. Youth, health and sexual attractiveness are good, gifts from God, but they do not last. Their loss is a real death, especially in a culture such as our own in which you have a place in the mainstream only if you possess them. For this reason, we do not let them go easily. We cling. Like the ancient Egyptians who mummified their dead, we attempt to mummify our youth and sexual attractiveness through contemporary forms of “embalming”: cosmetics, dyes, face-lifts, pretense and lies about our age. In my last column, I told of a man who, though dying of cancer, refused to die long after all was hopeless and only suffering remained. Eventually, his son had to challenge him: “Dad, die for God’s sake! Let go, it will be better then than it is now!”
When we are 50, 60 or 70 – or 40, and we are trying to be 20, someone must similarly challenge us: “Let go, for God’s sake! Be your age, it will be better then than it is now!” Old age is hell for those who cling and want to be young at all costs. It can be peaceful and full of joys, if we are willing to receive its spirit. God always gives us new life. We never die. Whenever something passes, be it youth, health or sexual attractiveness, something else takes its place. With that something else, God also sends a new spirit, a new pentecost. However, if, like Mary Magdala, we are unwilling to let go of what’s gone, then there can be no ascension to new life and to new pentecost of new spirit. Entry into the paschal mystery – namely, entry into the death that brings new life, new love, new friendship, new health, new attractiveness, new meaning and new depth – requires that we die, that we accept new life, and that we refuse to cling so that new life can ascend and new spirit can be given us. Ultimately, this depends upon trust. We must trust God enough to let ourselves die, to stop clinging, to believe that God will always give us something new and something better.
We must trust God enough to believe that nothing worthwhile will ever be lost and that he makes all things new. This also holds true for our lives of love and friendship. When we first meet, when love is young, there is a period of infatuation, of emotional electricity, of honeymoon. But all relationships grow and change and all honeymoons end. Too often when the honeymoon ends, the love begins to die, to grow sour, bland and resentful. Almost always a large part of the problem is the unwillingness to enter the paschal mystery. After the honeymoon, loves and friendships, like Jesus, need to rise on the third day, ascend to a new level, and release a new and deeper spirit.
This is also true for our dreams and hopes. When we go through life refusing to let go of a hope that can never be for us, when we refuse to accept that we are not as physically attractive, slim, athletic, talented, bright, unblemished, strong and connected as we would like to be, then we will always live in resentment and bitterness, frustrated and caught up in a daydream which prevents us from living by constantly saying: “if only…” In that daydream, we can never be happy because we are refusing to accept the spirit that God has given us for our own life. By refusing to die paschally to false dreams, we never in gratitude and joy pick up our own lives. How happy the person who accepts his/her life as it is with the spirit God has given for it!