The Essence of Life is Death

29 March 2009 5th Sunday of Lent
Jer 31, 31-34; Psalm 51; Hebrew 5, 7-9; John 12, 20-33

The Responsorial Psalm today sums up the purpose of the Season of Lent: to create in us a renewed and clean heart. What does a new heart have? A new heart will have God’s law and covenant as Yahweh promised Jeremiah. Every one of us will be able to distinguish right from wrong, just from the unjust; even when we have not yet ‘studied’ the law. We would feel ‘bad’ if we have committed a sin, or have been mistaken. We feel it; we are troubled even before we can pin it down. The reading said that all of us, “from the least to the greatest” will know God.

But what is the way to a renewed heart? The way is death. The Gospel tells us that unless a grain of wheat dies, it will not yield fruit. The way to new life is not to preserve it. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said, “The key to the question of death unlocks the door of life.” Thus, the more we accept that death always has been and always will be with us, the more life-giving we will be. Death in other words is integral to human existence.

This truth is glaring only if we open our eyes and be awake to all the dimensions of life. There is a natural and cultural allergy to the topic of death, in fact, we avoid talking about it. But all around us, some form of dying is necessary to life. Biology tells us that all cell divisions pave the way for new growth. The death of a cell gives way to more living cells. A fruit comes from the death of a flower. Our history tells us that our present civilization is an off-shoot of ancient cultures. In literature, Thomas Mann said that without death there would scarcely have been poets. The first epic, the Babylonian Gilgamesh, and the Sappho’s first known lyric poems were all about death. Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and many others, have death as a theme. Music itself is a series of deaths: to produce a melody, a note should give way to another note. Or else, when all the notes do not ‘die’ and their sounds are all sustained, the effect is noise.

Relationships are all about dying. But many of us, do not want death. We fear the death of a friendship, that we would rather lie that tell the painful truth. We would rather keep some secrets than reveal them because we might lose the very person we love. But experience has it that a relationship is about trust, and thus, secrets and lies destroy the very foundation of love. The depth and authenticity of friendships are tested by numerous deaths that lovers shared and endured. The genuineness of a relationship is determined by our selfless sacrifices for our loved ones. If one dies, we produce much fruit. Growth and development --- whether it is physical, emotional, social or spiritual --- are made possible by death. Our heartaches are experiences of death. It’s like a balloon: the expansion paves way for more space. When we are challenged to die, we are invited to expand our hearts so that there would be more room for love.

People who preserve life --- by avoiding death --- do not grow. They remain immature. And therefore, do not reach their full potential. In other words, the more we are spent --- having used up our energies in our pursuit of outstanding love and service, the more we are able to contribute to the development of humankind. The essence of life is in risking life and spending life, not in saving it and hoarding it. True, it is the way to weariness, exhaustion, (we have to rest too), and giving ourselves to the uttermost ---- but it is better any day to burn like a candle in the dark, than to rust like a metal chair in the stockroom without use. Or the fruit is far better than the flower.

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