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Scared to death

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In the face of death Christ invites us to admit our deepest fears, to place them into God's hands, and to never be afraid again. It is an invitation to walk the next fourteen days to Easter with Christ, as we celebrate the holiest moments of the Church's year.

Msgr. James P.
Moroney

Is there anything we dread more than the horror of death? Only thirteen films have won more than seven Oscars, and the top three, Ben Hur, Titanic, and Lord of the Rings, were all about life and death.

As Jesus approached the grave of his friend Lazarus he was very aware of his humanity, and in the face of death he wept. In sorrow he trembled and wept at the grave of his friend.

Death used to be a lot closer to us. In the days of our grandparents, death was a part of everyday life. In the days when life expectancy was forty years old and one in four babies died before reaching their first birthday, death was always around the corner. Indecent housing, cesspools running into the Blackstone canal, contaminated water, poverty, and hunger allowed diseases like typhus, typhoid, diphtheria, rickets, tuberculosis and scarlet fever to thrive.

One early twentieth century account tells of a woman who gave birth to all of her eleven children in her third floor tenement. When four of them died as infants, they were waked in the front parlor and their tiny coffins were carried by their parents to the Church and to the cemetery.

This intimacy with death and dying is reflected in the epitaphs on 19th century gravestones, like this one, found frequently throughout New England:

Remember friend, as you pass by, As you are now, so once was I. And as I am, so you shall be,

So prepare now, to follow me.

But these days death is no longer an everyday event, as we often grow old in nursing homes, where the rigors of aging go unseen. Then we die in an ICU and are waked in a funeral home.

Yet we're so afraid of death, which is probably why we spend so much time avoiding it!

But this penitential season has a message for us. In Christ, we need no longer fear death, we need never be afraid, ever again! For he has defeated death definitively! It is Christ Jesus who said: "I am the resurrection and the life...." "He who eats my body and drinks my blood will never really die..." "Lazarus, come out! Untie him! Let him go free!"

In the face of death Christ invites us to admit our deepest fears, to place them into God's hands, and to never be afraid again. It is an invitation to walk the next fourteen days to Easter with Christ, as we celebrate the holiest moments of the Church's year.

-- An invitation to the next week at morning Mass, when the intrigue mounts and the forces of this world plot to kill the Christ, to have done with him!

-- An invitation to the Sunday of the Passion and the Palms, when, as in life, the victory is but a prelude to suffering, and sufferings are transformed into perfect joy.

-- An invitation to the Sacred Paschal Triduum, to the Mass of the Chrism and the oils and the priesthood, to sitting with Jesus in the Upper Room, to walking with him on the road of sorrows, and to waiting at a tomb in the middle of the night.

I invite you to join me on this journey not just because "it's good to go to Church," but because the most desperate parts of our hearts NEED to go to Church;

-- That profound sorrow you felt when you lowered that person whom you loved into the grave with tears falling on the dirt....you need to join it with the death of Christ!

-- That little, mourning, painful place behind your heart that never healed...that still aches exquisitely whenever you think of the loved one who died? ...you need to join your heart to the one pierced for our salvation.

-- All those fears and deaths and sins and pains...we need to join them to the Cross of Jesus, to cry with Mary, to suffer with the Christ, and to sing joyful songs at the empty tomb.

For his sorrows are our sorrows. And his victory is our victory. And these coming days are the meaning of our lives!

The end of Fear and Death. The Victory of the Cross. That's what Lent is all about.

MSGR. JAMES P. MORONEY IS RECTOR OF ST. JOHN'S SEMINARY IN BRIGHTON.

Msgr. James P. Moroney is Rector of St. John's Seminary in Brighton.

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