Living Out Freedom and Responsibility: From Death to Life

Father Chet, March 1974

The Pascal Mystery, which refers to the new life which arose with the death of Jesus, is part of the mystery of all life. In order to rise to a new and higher level of faith, trust, love, and union with God, it is necessary to die to the present and the old.

This experience of death and resurrection happens many times throughout our lives. We were not intended to remain at the same level of faith, hope and love. Yet, in order to progress, we must experience some level of dying. And that involves suffering as we have to abandon things near and dear to us.

Spiritual Death

Each moment of death involves a real crisis, a moment of decision in which we choose between clinging to the old or sacrificing it for something better. But the new life remains hidden in the darkness of faith until we have sincerely detached ourselves from the old.

This experience of spiritual death is similar to that moment when, in mid-air, the trapeze artist abandons their safe perch, yet the new perch is out of reach and sight.

Letting Go of the Enemies Within

If we want to overcome the enemies within, and ready ourselves for higher levels of spirituality, we must engage in a program of self-denial and detachment.

Jesus walked boldly and courageously to his death on the cross. So, too, should we, without hesitation, take upon ourselves a regime of real sacrifice. This means finding within the excess baggage of this world which impedes our spiritual progress.

What are the things to which we are too much attached? Success, power, ambition, freedom, property, money, clothes, comfort, pleasure, sex, food, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sports, vacations, youth, beauty, and prowess come to mind. None of them are evil; we may even call them “good,” and rightly so. They become evil, however, when we become so attached that we spend time and energy on them that could devoted more profitably elsewhere.

Means, Not Ends

What is the sin of idolatry? It is making our life goal something that should only be a means to a higher end. The aforementioned things, along with countless others, are means. None should be an end in itself. When it is, we need to let it go, to sacrifice it, in whole or in part, to restore a proper balance.

The Pascal Mystery – Jesus’s passion, death, resurrection, and glorification – reminds us to keep dying to the things of this world which hold us back. Exactly what this means to each of us must be worked out to the best of our ability. However, if we feel that our hope and faith in God are endangered, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the reason is an excessive faith and trust in the goods of this world.

Walking in New Directions

No one would disagree that the complexity of today’s society makes predicting the future practically impossible, even with the most advanced computer modeling. We know this especially because of two things: the freedom and unpredictability of human beings, and God’s intervention in the events of this world.

This is why we never have complete certainty regarding the correct direction we should take. Nevertheless, we carry on as best we can, never giving up, always learning from our mistakes.

Guidance for Life

To stay close to the path of God’s will, there are three keepsakes to remember: KEEP HUMBLE, KEEP OPEN, KEEP PATIENT. We must be humble enough to acknowledge our mistakes. We must open ourselves to new insights which may require a change in our outlook. We must be willing to wait upon the Lord’s pleasure until it is revealed.

To live these keepsakes, and apply them to the world of the present and in the Church, our efforts need to be directed in two important areas: social development and personal prayer.

Life of Social Development

Social development is our effort to rectify the injustices and lack of charity in the world. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on The Development of Peoples and Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris are two church documents which strike a responsive chord in the hearts of altruistic, generous people today. [To this list may be added Deus Caritas Est by Pope Benedict XVI and Laudato Si’ by Pope Francis. Ed.]

These encyclicals seem to be most in accord with the spirit of Jesus: “What you do to the least of these, you do unto me… What you fail to do to the least of these, you fail to do unto me” (Matt. 25:40).

This emphasis on the social aspects of aid to the poor and oppressed is because the problems are world-wide, involving whole countries and cultures. We cannot settle the extensive, complex social problems of today on an individual basis.

As long as half the world’s population is underfed, malnourished, and lacks decent housing, social justice must hold a key place in our religious endeavors. As long as there is a single individual or group denied basic justice and charity, the work of social justice must continue.

Life of Intensified Personal Prayer

The pursuit of justice and charity is severely enjoined upon us by Yahweh and Jesus Christ in the Old and New Testaments. But we must never forget that God is greater than the justice and charity we practice.  God must enjoy an ultimacy and priority above every other consideration.

For this to happen, we need to engage daily in intense personal prayer. Prayers of words, yes. But it must not stop with words. It must be real prayer coming from the innermost depths of our being with sincerity, intensity, humility, selflessness, full of trust and love.

Consider if all the energy and time now spent in complaining and finding fault with the way things are going in the church and in the world is given instead to deep, heartfelt prayers of petition for God to have mercy on his people, to forgive us our sins, to guide us, to save us. I daresay that much more effective good would be accomplished.

Regardless of whether we personally desire to update or backdate today’s church, we can come together and agree to pray: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Editor’s Note: This is the third of three installments of Fathers Chet’s writings on this topic. The first was published in June and the second was in August.

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