In his new book, “Things Worth Dying For,” Archbishop Charles Chaput suggested that as we consider what’s worth dying for, we’ll also discover what’s worth living for.
I started the book during Holy Week, lured by the likelihood that Chaput, recently retired at 75, would be especially insightful on pinpointing what matters most, from the perspective of a long, thoughtful faith journey.
During his Kansas childhood as a farmer’s son, he said, death “mirrored the cycle of seasons and farming,” and by observing the fragility of life, along with its beauty and sacredness, he learned the value of mourning, for it “acknowledges that someone unique and unrepeatable has left the world; a life filled with its own universe of joys, sufferings and loves has passed…”
I thought of my belated father and the “universe” within him. I’d known only a small piece of it. How much more had God known of its value and breadth?
Chaput said that pondering our own mortality helps us learn what ultimately matters to us – along with the foolishness of what doesn’t. In merely asking what we love more than life, he remarked, we engage in “an act of rebellion against a loveless age.”
Relying on others for insight, Chaput tapped Hans Jonas, a Jewish philosopher who “searched for the good and true after the tragedy of Auschwitz,” noticing ways humans are set apart from animals – including the reality of the grave.
Along with burying our dead, Jonas said, man, of all creatures, “is the only one who knows that he must die.” Chaput extrapolated, “Our graves point to an unseen and immaterial purpose, to something that declares that death will not have the final word.” Or, in Jonas’ words: “Metaphysics arises from the grave.”
Only humans bury the dead, but no living creature escapes death, Jonas observed, noting that “Life…carries death within itself.”
As I thought about this in light of the days through which I was about to pass – both the death of Good Friday and the life of Easter Sunday – I wondered how Jesus might think of it. Chaput seemed to read my thoughts.
The Resurrection, he said, clarifies the meaning of both life and death, teaching us that “appropriate fear, ruled by appropriate hope, is the nature of a good life.”
Chaput said he’d come to realize that despite our weaknesses and strengths, we humans are “powerless to defeat God’s purpose in Jesus Christ.” “Our flaws, our mistakes, our mediocrity, even our most ingenious acts of self-sabotage – all are impotent to part us from God’s love,” he said, “if we turn to him with an open and humble heart.”
Refreshment to the soul, I’d say, especially in light of a year when death hovered so palpably close so often.
Most exquisitely, Chaput pointed out that, “despite the confused creatures we so often are,” Jesus himself concluded that we humans are, in fact, worth dying for. So perhaps we, his followers, “can at least try to live and die for others,” too.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on April 19, 2021.]