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A Leaven In The World … To Live, Die Daily

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By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK

We are in the midst of Passiontide as I write. The Church continues her focus on her Lord and Divine Master while the world spins. The Cross remains ever our constant beacon and source of hope. Lent reaches its spiritual zenith with Holy Week and the Passion, death, and Resurrection of the Lord. This is the holiest moment in the entire liturgical year because it leads to the greatest victory.

For the living death is always present. We bury parents and siblings. For priests funerals are a constant of parish ministry. Some people find death unpleasant because they are young and think it takes away from the carefree nature that they think life should have if it is to be joyful. Some flee from death through the madness and self-destructive nature of mid-life crisis. Some do not care that they are going to die because they don’t believe. This last is the most dangerous.

It is not the deadening of the senses and the conscience through sin that is mankind’s greatest threat. Those who believe tragically sometimes fall and can, through the mercy of Christ, get back up again. The believer is ever called to repent.  It is, rather those who with Satan reject Him, brandishing the rebellious cry of Non serviam, who are truly in danger of eternal damnation.

An immature inability to face the certainty of one’s own death can be outgrown. The damaged marriages, families, and lives resulting from adultery and divorce can result in conversion with enough prayer, grace, and cooperation. The quieting of the intellect and conscience through drug, sex, and alcohol abuse can be overcome with much humility and help. But the steadfast refusal to put faith and trust in God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier is that thing on Earth most like the “mountain” about which the Lord preached, and which requires a superhuman miracle to be moved into the sea.

The world seems more like it is dying than alive. Wars, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, sexual abuse, and transgender mutilation; so many crimes and sins cry out to Heaven for vengeance. So many human hearts call out ceaselessly to God for relief with need for justice, mercy, and love. How to understand all this? How to coexist with it or to find sense in the midst of senselessness and seeming chaos is a dilemma that so many with a conscience face daily.

For those of us who through a life of Catholic Faith have learned to love the Church, we suffer when we see her so sullied and attacked by prelates who are corrupt and corrupting others. We see hypocritical power mongers who say whatever they need to achieve whatever agenda makes them feel more powerful, while violating their own stated ethical and moral stands. The ends justify the means for these scandalous frauds. Some are falling into cynicism as a result of the constant exposure to criminality in the highest offices of the Church.

The need for serenity, despite the madness we encounter in the world, and the perennial ability to do what we call “processing,” amid the events and crises over which we have little or no control is what all of us are seeking.

Those who share our Faith know that it is not a simplistic and unthinking response to aver that the Lord is the answer. And, if the Lord is to be the perennial answer to our problems, questions, and needs, then never is He more so than in the hour of His greatest sacrifice, in which His Lordship was fulfilled as He died on the cross so that, in the flesh He shares with us He could rise from the dead.

All of this means that, for each of us, meditating on the eventuality of our own death is perhaps the most powerful help to living already the joy of the risen glory we can have only in Him. If it is only by dying that we can rise to eternal life, then dying like Christ, in His grace by means of which only can we be holy, is our goal.

How do we daily practice the art of dying to self so that the secret joy of already living the grace of the risen One can be our greatest treasure and firm foundation of hope? One way we describe it is mortification. By this we don’t mean embarrassment, the injuring of pride, so that someone recounting such says, “I was mortified.” No, true mortification, in its original root from the Latin, mortality, means death. It is the opposite of that pride which is at the root of the embarrassed reaction to the simple revelation of human weakness and fallibility true of every human person.

The idea or habit of mortification is rooted in the fact that we all will die. And by accounting for it and contemplating it through the means afforded by faith, we can arrive at the necessary honesty consonant with loving ourselves. It turns out, then, that “mortification” is the voluntary and virtuous habit of humbling ourselves with the knowledge that we share in the final earthly end of all flesh. And that we must live out in our words, actions, and choices the truth that greeted us with the imposition of ashes once again on Ash Wednesday: Memento homo, quia pulvis es. We originated in dust and will one day return to that source of humus, the earth, from which we came.

The concept of the mortification of the flesh is rooted in Scripture. Romans 8:13 reads, “For if you live according to the flesh you shall die; but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.”

The One who called us forth from that dust of earth is the One who desires to call us also forth from the tomb where mortal flesh is enclosed. The grave is not an end but a sign of hope for those who believe. We walk through the via Dolorosa, accompanying our Lord now, with the sure and certain hope that, as we are faithful in loving and clinging to Him unto the end, He will accompany and bring us to life eternal in Him.

The practice of mortification is not undertaken for its own sake. We do not contemplate our own death and burial in order to enter into a saddened or despondent state. We do so rather to arrive at a truly humble attitude of mind and heart, ready to more eagerly obey Him whom we love and serve now so as to be united with Him forever.

How do we die to ourselves? There are as many ways as there are people. All of us are called to growth as individual as our weaknesses. Overcoming bad habits that mitigate against growth in virtue. Learning to be silent and listen when that is best for us. Putting first faithfulness to the duties of our state in life before socializing, killing time by surfing social networks, and other forms of entertainment. Exercising appropriate control over our curiosity. Praying first and daily, and before making decisions. Minding our own business. Not using the fodder of other people’s family lives as a distraction from the proper concern for our own. Changing our concept of the priest, not as one whom we seek out to give us an excuse for doing less for Christ but, rather, one to whom we should look for suggestions as to what more we can do more to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Readily witnessing for the Lord in all circumstances as a light, rather than hiding our faith under a bushel basket out of fear of human respect.

To more fully draw on the serenity and security of life forever with Him one day, we must more readily die to ourselves daily.

Thank you for reading and praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

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