By Father Mieczysław Piotrowski TChr,
Does the instant of death mark the total extinction of a human being or only a transition into a new, never-ending dimension of existence? By refusing to ponder the question of our certain death we deprive our life of authenticity and cloak it in a mantle of hypocrisy. We must open ourselves up to the mystery of man and seek out the hidden presence of Jesus Christ, who embodies the only answer to the riddle of our suffering and death.
You must search – stated the French physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal. “When I say that you must search, I do not say this out of a sense of holy fervor… I say this not out of religious piety or plain curiosity, but out of a sense of our own personal gain. I am amazed and terrified by people’s indifference to the following question: eternity, which brings with it death, is such a sublime thing, concerning us so deeply, that one must be bereft of any sense of reason to remain indifferent to such a problem… Surely there is nothing more important to a man than his destiny; nothing more unsettling than the eternity that awaits him? And yet with other things man behaves quite differently: he fears them, places his trust in them, takes precautions against them, informs himself about them. And so the man that spends days and nights fuming and despairing over the failures of his career walks steadily and unthinkingly toward death, which is a wager for all or nothing. For me, it is a terrifying thing to see someone fussing so fastidiously over small and transient things, while remaining so blithely indifferent to what is great and eternal.”
What we have here is that darkening of the mind and heart about which Jesus speaks: “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil“ (Jn 3:19). To rouse people out of their mental lethargy over the subject of their own death, Pascal resorts to a final argument: “if the believer is mistaken, and it is true that silence and darkness are all that remain across death’s threshold, he will never know this. If, on the other hand, it is the nonbeliever that is mistaken, and something does exist, he will pay the price of his mistake for all eternity.”
Thus, faced with the certain prospect of our death, our only reasonable response is to cling to the person of Christ. This can only be accomplished in what St. John of the Cross called the “darkness of faith.” Here there is no empirical certainty. One must simply make a personal decision to come to know and accept the joyous news of salvation as handed down to us by the apostles. It was for us and for our salvation that God became a real man at a concrete time and place. He took upon Himself the sins of us all, was condemned to death by crucifixion in Jerusalem by the procurator of Palestine, Pontius Pilate, and, after dying on the cross, was buried in a tomb. On the third day, He rose again, as He said He would, and appeared many times to His disciples. By His death and resurrection he sustained the final victory over sin and death, and now invites all of us to participate in His victory. Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in Me, even though he dies, he will live, and whoever lives and believes in Me, will never die” (Jn 11 : 25-26).
To free ourselves of the hopeless and meaningless slavery of sin and death, we need to “hope against hope” that God will love us to the end (cf. Jn 13 : 1). By becoming true man, God united us to Himself and, in the mystery of the Eucharist, remains with us always… to the end of time (Mt 28 : 20), thereby giving us a part in His risen life. Many of Jesus’ listeners were scandalized by what Jesus had to say about the Eucharist. “I am the living bread, which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world… I tell you most solemnly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you. Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (Jn 6 : 51, 53-55).
We break free of the hellish hopelessness of sin and death when, in all our sinfulness, like the Prodigal son, we cast ourselves into the arms of Christ in the Sacrament of Penance, and then, having confessed our sins, receive Him into our hearts in the gift of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the Risen Christ in His divine humanity. It is the summit and supreme treasure of the universe.
André Frossard, the French journalist and writer, discovered the mystery of the real presence of God in the Eucharist during a chance encounter with the Blessed Sacrament, which had been exposed for adoration in one of the churches of Paris. The following is an account of his conversion as described in his book Dieu en Question (Poche, 1991): “When I walked into the chapel, I was an atheist. When I walked out a few minutes later, I was a Christian and a witness of my own conversion. I was filled with amazement, a state of mind that endures even now…
My father wanted me to attend the Teachers’ College by Rue Ulm. I went there when I was twenty years old, but I mistook the side of the street and instead of entering the College, I walked into the Sisters of Adoration…
What I am going to relate to you is not the story of some intellectual discovery. It is an account of a physical occurrence experienced under all but laboratory conditions. When I opened the iron gates of that convent, I was an atheist. Atheism takes many forms. There is philosophical atheism, which identifies God with nature. It denies Him a separate individuality and places all things within the reach of human intelligence; nothing is God, everything is divine. This atheism leads to pantheism under the form of some ideology or other. Scientific atheism rejects the hypothesis of God which it considers unsuited to scientific inquiry. It tries to explain the existence of the world exclusively in terms of matter and its properties, without asking where this matter originates. An even more radical form of atheism is Marxist atheism. Not only does it deny God, but it would send Him on vacation even if He did exist. God’s insistent presence would be an obstacle to the free exercise of the human will. There is also the most widespread form of atheism, with which I am well acquainted. Idiotic atheism. This was my kind of atheism. Idiotic atheism poses no questions. It considers it natural that human beings should be living on a fiery ball covered with a thin crust of dry mud, rotating on its own axes at ultra-sonic speed around the sun – itself a kind of hydrogen bomb hurtling past billions of lampions of mysterious origin and unknown purpose. I was still such an atheist when I walked through the doors of the chapel, and remained so a while longer inside. Against the light, the people seemed to be mere shadows… Something bright like the sun shone in the depths of the chapel. I did not know that this was the Blessed Sacrament.
I had never known the heartaches of love, or mental anguish, or even what it is to be curious. Religion was an old illusion and, on the path of historical evolution, Christianity was merely a belated throwback. History had declared itself on our side – on the Left, and the problem of God had been solved in the negative for the past two or three centuries. In my milieu, religion was so unfashionable that there was no need even to be anticlerical, unless it was during the elections… Even now I can see the twenty-year-old boy that I was. To this day I remember his utter amazement when, suddenly, before his eyes, there came out of the depths of that humble chapel a light, a different light – of unbearable brightness and unimaginable density; a light that at once revealed and concealed the presence of God, the very same God that just a moment ago that boy would have sworn existed only in the human imagination. At the same time, he was swept up by a wave of sweetness mingled with a joy of such power as to make the heart burst with a desire for repentance. That memory would never grow dim, even in the worst moments of his life, moments not infrequently filled with fear and unhappiness. From then on, that boy’s abiding task would be to witness to that sweetness and excruciating purity of God. On that day, God showed him, by contrast, the kind of mud he was made of…
That light, which I saw not with bodily eyes, was not the kind of light that shines on us and causes our skin to turn brown. It was a spiritual light, i.e. an illuminating light – the glow of truth, as it were. It reversed once and for all the order of things. From the moment I saw it, I was able to say that only God existed for me; everything else was mere hypothesis…
As concerns my free will, it was only after my conversion that I really began to exercise it – only after I had understood that God alone can save us from all the dependencies that we inevitably fall into without Him.
I stress again. This was an objective experience, straight out of the field of physics, you might say. I have nothing more valuable to say than this: beyond this world, which surrounds us, and of which we are a part, there looms a world considerably more substantial than the one in which we normally put our trust. It is the ultimate reality. Before it, there are no more questions to pose” (pp. 21-24).
Many years later, after winning worldwide renown as an author and journalist, Froissard would observe: “What can I do when faced with the news that Christianity is true? Can I help it if Truth exists and that Truth is a Person?”
Christianity is not a thing, or an idea, but a Person named Jesus Christ. He conquered death by His resurrection and now remains with us in the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, that he may lead us to life everlasting in heaven. Anyone can receive His gift of Divine Love and eternal life. All we have to do is meet one condition: place total trust in Jesus in the darkness of faith and commit ourselves to Him for the rest of our life. This is the only recipe for achieving perfect happiness and eternal life in heaven. To pass up such a chance would be the height of folly and thoughtlessness.
The above article was published with permission from Miłujcie się! in November 2010