These facts about the world, among which is the fact I alluded to yesterday- memento mori (i.e., remember death)- the fact that we will die, leads all of us, inexorably, to ask questions about life. Heidegger said that death is the horizon against which we, as human beings, live our lives. Christ's resurrection, not just as an historical fact, but as we experience it in the events our lives, gives us a glimpse over this horizon (mandatory Καθολικός διάκονος cultural allusion: Ozzy's Over the Mountain 1982 with Randy Rhoades, of course), beyond which we otherwise could not see.
The questions posed by memento mori are, What is the meaning of my life? In what or whom do I place my hope, that is, my trust? What really matters? If I am really honest, most of the time I just kick these questions down the road, like an empty, rusted, old aluminum can.
In my reading of Ascend during these days of Lent, I came across this in a portion entitled Is death beautiful?: "The Christian doesn't fear death. For Christians, the experience of death is often [not always] something very beautiful... the concept of Christian death...involves a great act of trust [in] and love of God... Why can Christian death be called beautiful? Because the dying person knows, without a doubt [hope is certainty about one's destiny], that he or she will be happy forever and that one day God will raise up his or her body...We'll be released from sickness, loneliness, addiction, poverty, injustice - whatever made our lives painful" (pgs. 50-51).
Addressing, yet again, the perennial question about whether natural disasters are God's punishments, the authors of Ascend, both of whom are Roman Catholic deacons, write: "Natural disasters and other catastrophes are not evidence of the punishment of God. For example, your authors live in Southern California, with full knowledge that one day a huge earthquake will strike, perhaps killing hundreds and destroying cities. Shall we then blame God?" It is a rhetorical question, whereas, the question, In what or whom do you place your hope?, which is another way of asking what someone who examined your life would say you value the most, is most definitely not!
This post is not a note of either pessimism or optimism, but of hope. Perhaps it is a provocation to point to the One, not only in whom we find hope, but who is our hope, which is certainty, not sentiment. The theological virtues of faith, hope, and love are not gifts God gives me to evade reality. On the contrary, these gifts are precisely what allow me to engage the reality of my life daily in all its depth, with all of the triumphs, joys, pains, and sorrows I experience. In this way, I "can collaborate in the salvation of the world[:] by accepting the sacrifice of the circumstances through which [I am] made to pass" (Is It Possible? vol. 3).
Daily during this Lent I am reminding myself that I am ashes and dust, but I do so looking forward to Easter in the realization that, in and through Christ Jesus and by the power of the Spirit, God shows me what truly great things he accomplishes working with these materials. In other words, calling to mind the pity God takes on my nothingness gives me hope! With St. Paul, "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). Maybe, as Green Day suggests, it's not so much a question, as "an answer learned in time."