By Rev. Raymond Petrucci
Each stage of life presents its own package of age-appropriate talking points. The time of grey hair, wrinkles, and a groan attached to every movement of the body is no exception. Mortality is making its appearance. Against all the aches and pains of aging, one commonly hears the allegedly consoling words, "Well, it beats the alternative." The alternative, of course, is death.
In the secular world, a new year is beginning. Liturgically, the year that has been devoted by Pope Benedict XVI to Saint Paul has reached its midpoint. The prodigious apostolic zeal of Saint Paul touched every aspect of life including how to truly live and die. Writing to the church community in Caesarea Philippi, he viewed the "alternative" in a more interesting and a decidedly Christian way:
Brothers and sisters: Christ will be magnified in my body; whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.
A devout Christian can look forward to death, because it is the only way of reaching the fullness of life. Calling upon God's mercy, one stands before the dark and mysterious doorway of death as it opens to the hope of eternal joy in the sunshine of God's love. This is the faith of Easter. This is the faith in which we entrust our hopes and prayers for loved ones who have passed through that inevitable gateway.
In Saint Paul's words, however, there is an equal emphasis on life – here and now. How that indwelling energy of the Spirit affects one's daily living is where attention needs to be given. The world's priorities fade before that personal quest toward the divine.
Three year old Jaden watched and cheered for his mother, Tasha Danvers, as she raced to win the Bronze Medal in the four-hundred meter event at the Olympics in Beijing. Britain's talented runner was expected to medal in the previous Olympics four years earlier in Athens. In the midst of her training regimen under the guidance of her coach and husband, she announced that she was pregnant. The current culture would advise her to choose abortion; Tasha informed the culture that she was choosing life. So the possibility of Olympic fame passed, but motherhood arrived. Some years from now, Jaden will be able to appreciate that his mother won the bronze in Beijing - and how she was golden in Athens.
Cancer is a horrible disease. The affliction can usher one to a rapid demise or take one on a long and grueling road to the end; it also can bring one to God. The screenplays for Showgirls, Basic Instinct, and numerous other portraits of hedonism were authored by Joe Eszterhas. His abuse of alcohol harmed his life and his four-pack-a-day cigarette habit led to throat cancer. As a lapsed Catholic from childhood, God had been relegated to a distant remembrance and a state of irrelevance. The inner despair resulting from the reality of his disease brought him, finally, to his knees and a lament over his mournful condition to God. Through humility and prayer, feelings of peace and joy returned to his soul. In gratitude to God for his new life, Joe Eszyerhas determined to tell the story of how God and faith returned to save his life. St. Martin's Press published his gift of thanksgiving in the form of a new book, Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith.
These two individual stories illustrate how life and faith intermesh in producing the myriad possibilities through which the highest qualities of the human heart and soul can express themselves. Could it be that the complete narration of one's life is a story of alternatives? If so, then serious thought must be given to the fundamental moral principles that influence our choices. If they be founded in a faith in Christ, then doing the loving thing will become the mortar of the edifice our choices build. The alternatives, based in Christ, are flushed in hope and pursued in truth. Living for Christ as one's constant motive for being and dying in Christ as one's ultimate goal in believing, you can't beat it.