My two favourite feasts of the year are upon us, a celebration of faith, hope, life, heaven and redemption. A celebration of God’s victory over the world, the Devil and death itself on behalf of all Christians and all humankind. Feasts that make the crass celebration of evil that is Halloween look all the more myopic.
The culture of death seems particularly prevalent in our society at the moment. The popularity of the Walter White character talks to this void underlying the secular social subconscious. In the response to news of his imminent death he goes off the rails and walks a path of ever increasing evil. He uses his circumstances to justify his actions that become ever more despicable, rapidly bringing suffering, death and destruction to people around him.
Last week I walked past a furniture shop which had sofa cushions embroidered with skeletons. In the summer I saw young children skipping around in T-shirts covered in skulls. Handbags with Damien Hirst style jeweled skull motifs. The rising popularity of all things Pirate related. I’m not sure people even realise the depth of the nihilistic statement they are making.
This is not a Christian understanding of death, a memento mori to remind us to take care of our spiritual lives. This is a worldly message either about embracing materialism while you can, or trivialising death, or despairing of it, perhaps all three at once.
Christianity on the other hand is about embracing life every second of every day so that when we reach its end we can face God knowing we have fought the good fight to the end, as St Paul says, and that we can live in the real and comforting hope of meeting a loving God face to face. There is no secular equivalent to a happy death. The hope of heaven which gives all Christians the strength to carry on.
Recently I completed FarCry 2 again. Its a video game about a civil war ravaged African country, with a Heart of Darkness clumsily tacked on at the end. Only at my most mentally ill have I been half fatalistic enough to despair, but this game’s ending is devoid of a christian idea of redemption it is deeply depressing.
It led me to wonder; how many people realise they are living with such a dearth of hope? without knowing that even the greatest of sinners can repent through God’s grace? Repentance may feel like turning an oil tanker at sea but as long as we are wholeheartedly turning towards God, He runs to meet us more than half way, and was in fact the one prompting us to seek him in the first place. The parable of the prodigal son shows us this.
On a different, but perhaps related note, there is an irksome saying that seems to be doing the rounds “God will only give you what you can handle”. This is not true at all. The focus is completely wrong. It seems to be suggesting that we rely on our own strength to deal with suffering, or indeed that it is God who sends suffering our way, or perhaps most insidiously; if we are not coping it is due to our lack of faith. Actually the fallen world and the Devil is what sends suffering, and he attacks most those who do not dance to his tune. As the Pope reminds us, we must be ever aware of the spiritual battle we are engaged in as Christians. (Pope Francis looking less the woolly liberal, the woolly liberals would have us believe)
The Devil offers us materialism and hedonism that is forever confounding, forever taunting us with temptations that look delicious when out of reach and that rapidly turn to ashes when we succumb to them. Christian life is not about the acquisition of money, sex, power or even respect, the obsessions of this world.
The beatitudes remind us of the inherent value and dignity of the lowly. The losers by the worldly standards of this life will be the winners in the heavenly standards of the next. A lesson the prosperity gospel preachers, that are becoming increasingly prevalent, go to great lengths to ignore, a despicably sinful heresy that Catholic Bishops can fall afoul of.
If we search for our value in worldly things we will be forever lost. We need to seek our value in the eyes of God, quite simply that is what we should be doing in prayer, never seeking the thing of immediate advantage but asking for God’s presence in our daily lives. In writing this I am preaching predominantly to myself, my failure to do the above is perhaps the root of the depression that I struggle to shake, day by day, year by year, with all the medication and therapy the NHS can throw my way.
What God promises is that he will save our soul in the face of this darkness, even when all seems lost. In the face of all the suffering this world can dish out. We do not get to heaven by our strength, but by God’s grace, Grace that God offers us every second of every day and most powerfully in the Eucharist. Thus heaven is a real and ever present hope for all Christians great and small, attainable through God’s ever ready saving help, as these great twin feasts so eloquently reassure us.