Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Seek God in Good Times and Bad

There are a lot of different ways people approach prayer. Some folks only pray to God when they have a problem. When a crisis occurs, these people drop to their knees and fervently beg God to make things better. But when circumstances are going well in their lives, these people completely forget about God and never pray.
Other people do the exact opposite. When things are going really well, they are so filled with joy and gratitude, they thank God profusely for all their blessings and good fortune. However, when problems arise, these people get so filled with anxiety and fear, they lose sight of God and do not pray. 
I have to admit, I am in this second group. When circumstances in my life are good, I feel so blessed, and I don’t hesitate to offer joyful praise and thanksgiving to God. But when serious problems arise, I get so flustered, almost on the verge of panic, that my entire focus is on what steps I need to take to solve the problem. It’s often not until the crisis has passed that I stop and think, “Wow, I never prayed once during that ordeal. I completely forgot about God.” 
I can just hear God at that moment saying to me in a sarcastic voice, “Hel-LO!! Remember me? The whole time you were panicking and losing sleep and feeling sorry for yourself I was right here. But I guess you were too busy trying to be a hero to ask for a little help.”
(Yeah, I know God doesn’t talk in sarcastic insults like that. But when I think of it this way it helps me to realize what a bonehead I was for not seeking His help.)
I’m really not sure why I find it so difficult to turn to God in times of trouble. Maybe it’s because I’ve been trained by our culture to play the role of the self-sufficient problem solver. You know, that classic Lone Ranger, Marlboro Man, John Wayne persona, which is an attractive—but quite false—ideal of American rugged individualism. When an unexpected challenge arises, maybe I think it’s my job to be a man and find a solution. So, the idea of seeking God’s help gets shoved to the back of my brain. 
Without a doubt my behavior is thoroughly foolish. When a particular crisis finally is over, I often shake my head in amazement and say, “I can’t believe it never dawned on me to pray. I was so focused on trying to make things right using my own skills and talents, God just never occurred to me. I’m such a bonehead!”
By the way, my particular problem solving “skills and talents” are so mediocre at best, it’s a miracle I get anything accomplished on my own.
The fact of the matter is, God is quite ready, willing, and able to help us in times of trouble. That’s what loving fathers do. They joyfully assist their precious offspring when problems arise. We are His beloved children, and all we have to do is sincerely seek Him and ask for His help.
The ideal situation is to turn to God in praise and thanksgiving whenever things are going right in our lives. This, of course, is proper because all of our blessings come from the Lord.
Then, when times are tough and we face serious problems, we need to turn to the Lord again, this time in fervent supplication, asking for His divine intercession. His Holy Spirit will calm our panicky nerves, and his supernatural power will give us strength to work through the problem until it is solved.
Afterward, when the ordeal has passed, we’ll be so thankful and relieved. Best of all, we won’t have to call ourselves a bonehead.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Watch Out for Email Scams

The “Nigerian Prince” email scam has been around a long time. Most people quickly delete those emails, but if you are not aware of this internet ploy, let me describe it. A criminal will send you an email claiming to be a Nigerian prince with millions of dollars he needs to transfer out of his country. If you will simply loan him $5,000 to cover international banking transfer fees, he will share his vast fortune with you.
Unfortunately, some folks fall for this con, thinking, “Wow, if I loan this prince five grand now, he’ll give me a million dollars next week!” Law enforcement officials estimate over $700,000 are stolen each year from gullible citizens this way.
This particular email scam plays on people’s greed. There are other scams that are even more insidious, which play on people’s fears or their sense of altruism.
Some criminals will impersonate IRS agents, either by email or telephone. They accuse the unsuspecting citizens of owing back taxes and then threaten them with arrest by the end of the day if they do not settle the debt immediately. Being marched out of your home in handcuffs by a team of federal agents is not exactly the kind of snapshot you want to post on Facebook or Instagram. And it definitely would make for a lousy Christmas card photo.
So, filled with fear and panic, far too many people scramble to pay the back taxes. In the process, they lose sight of the fact that in all the years they’ve filed tax returns and paid tax bills they never once were required to wire a money order to a post office box in San Diego.
This scam is most effective with those who are honest and law-abiding, and who always pay their bills on time. Other people are immune to this scam, those who reply to the fake IRS agent by saying, “Oh, you’re gonna arrest me today for back taxes? Get in line, pal, right behind the power company, the car loan company, and my landlord!” He then hangs up and mutters, “I’m surprised my phone hasn’t been disconnected yet.”
Another scam involves emails seemingly sent from someone you know. However, the crooks have hacked his or her email account and are sending their sneaky scheme to everyone in the address book. This one plays on our instinct to help friends in need. The email usually tells a tale of woe, describing a financial jam and requesting a little help, always with the promise to pay it all back right away.
But here’s the big red flag: this email scam almost always requests that you use gift cards to transfer the money.
I almost got sucked in on a scam like this a while ago. But the email message, supposedly from a friend, started out with “Hi William.” Nobody calls me William except my mother when I’m in trouble, so I knew something was fishy. Then when he requested that I buy $400 worth of Amazon gift cards and email him the serial numbers on the back of the cards, I knew the whole thing was bogus.
So, here’s a summary: the IRS or Social Security never request money or personal information over the phone; they always communicate with written letters via US Mail. And if someone sends an email requesting gift cards, you can be sure it’s a criminal trying to steal from you.
Even, for example, if your college-age son sends you an email in early December requesting a gift card for a Christmas present, just to be safe you should immediately report him to the police as an online thief. Unless, of course, he is a Nigerian prince.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Wrong Views About God

Many people think of God as an angry judge, one of those classic “Hangin’ Judges” from an old Western movie who sentences every defendant to death, even if the crime is merely jaywalking. Folks who view God this way are often frightened and anxious. They regularly engage in church activities and fervent prayer, in a desperate attempt to please this angry God. But deep down they are resigned to the fact that they fall far short of spiritual perfection, and therefore they most likely will spend eternity suffering in the fires of Hell.
Many other people think of God as a jolly grandfather, who never says a negative word to his cherished grandchildren. Even if the children do something really selfish and cruel, this jolly grandpa just smiles and pulls mini Snickers bars out of his pocket and hands them out. Folks who view God this way are often happy-go-lucky. They almost never engage in church activities or prayer, because there is no need to try and please this jolly God. No matter what they do during their lifetime, they are convinced they will spend eternity in Heaven—mostly because they are certain Hell does not exist.
Both groups of people are very wrong in their understanding of God. The Creator of the Universe, the God of the Bible, is neither a perpetually angry “Hangin’ Judge” who sentences everyone to death, nor a perpetually jolly grandpa who gives mini Snickers bars to misbehaving children.
The real Almighty God performs a divine balancing act between two extremes: justice and mercy. When it comes to justice, God has set down very clear laws of right and wrong. God hates sin, and He decrees that a price must be paid for sinful behavior. If there is no price paid, then evil is rewarded as if it were good, which makes a complete mockery of the concept of righteousness. So, sin is real, and it is bad, and there must be consequences for sinful behavior.
On the other hand, God is all merciful. He loves each and every one of His precious children, we human beings. He wants desperately for each of us to be in a loving relationship with Him, and He desires that everyone spend eternity in Heaven with Him.
This is quite a conundrum. God is righteous, and evil cannot be condoned. And yet, God loves us so much and wants us in Heaven despite our sinful hearts. If God gives us what we deserve, eternal torment in the fires of Hell (kind of like a “Hangin’ Judge” would do), then love and mercy are crushed by rigid righteousness. But if God ignores our sinful behavior and welcomes us all into Heaven (kind of like a jolly grandpa would do), then justice is crushed by sentimentality, as good and evil are treated the same.
What can God possibly do to balance justice and mercy? Well, what God did was respect justice by making sure a price was paid for sin—so that evil was not treated the same as goodness—and at the same time He demonstrated His boundless love by paying the price for sin Himself. That’s what we celebrated a couple of months ago. Jesus’ passion and death on the cross was the perfect atoning sacrifice that paid the price for mankind’s sins. It was the greatest gift ever given in the history of the world.
If you are convinced that God is always angry and vengeful, and as a result, you despair of every making it to Heaven, please relax. God loves you more than you can imagine. If you trust in Him and try your best to live a faithful, holy life, He will honor His promise to give eternal joy to those who love Him.
And if you are convinced that God is always jolly and doesn’t care about your chronic selfish behavior, and therefore you are guaranteed a place in Heaven, you might want to re-think that position. God does love you, but His righteousness will not be mocked. Evil is evil, and the sooner you repent and seek forgiveness, the sooner you can be in a true loving relationship with the Almighty Creator.
“Hangin’ Judges” are fine in old movies, and jolly grandpas with an endless supply of mini Snickers bars also are fine—in moderation. But God is far different than either of those caricatures. He is at the same time all just and all loving. It’s an amazing balancing act. We should rejoice that we are loved by Him, but at the same time we definitely are called to holiness.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Does Belief in the Afterlife ‘Devalue’ Life Today?

A few weeks ago, there was an opinion column in the Washington Post, and the writer made the point that faithful Christians are less fearful of contracting the Covid-19 virus because they believe dying is their ticket to the joys of Heaven for all eternity.
I’m pretty sure that’s not an accurate claim about Christians and risk-taking, but in response to that opinion piece, Harvard professor Steven Pinker had this to say: “Belief in an afterlife is a malignant delusion, since it devalues actual lives and discourages action that would make them longer, safer, and happier.”
Like most atheists, Pinker believes religious faith is an unfortunate holdover from pre-scientific times, and the sooner mankind stops believing in spiritual fairy tales the better off we all will be. A basic tenet of atheism is that all life on earth evolved randomly, without plan or purpose, and therefore in the grand scheme of things, human beings are no different in eternal value than, say, earthworms or dandelions.
Ingrid Newkirk, the founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), summarized this view very succinctly when she said, “[We] do not separate out the human animal, so there is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”
I’m sure Professor Pinker’s faith in atheism is sincere. However, his comments about belief in an afterlife must be refuted, since they are blatantly false. Pinker claims that people who believe in an afterlife “devalue actual lives” here and now, and are not interested in making lives “longer, safer, and happier.” This is plainly ridiculous.
Who created institutions such as hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters? It was people of faith, not atheists. And these believers did what they did, not because they thought human beings were no different than earthworms, but because they believed all people were created in the image of God and as such were sacred.
I’m certainly not making the claim that Christians are morally and ethically perfect. One of the key tenets of Christianity comes straight from St. Paul: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And if you review some of the atrocities throughout history that were committed in the name of Jesus, it’s downright embarrassing.
But if we want to talk about which metaphysical worldview tends to make human lives “longer, safer, and happier,” then atheism is at the bottom of the list. In just the 20th century alone, over 100 million people were murdered by regimes built on the foundation of atheism. It’s safe to say the most prominent leaders of these deadly movements — Stalin, Hitler, and Mao — will never be lauded by historians because they made lives “longer, safer, and happier.” Their diabolical talent was making human lives shorter, dangerous, and miserable.
Another professor in the Boston area has a much different view. Dr. Peter Kreeft, who teaches philosophy at Boston College, has this to say about people who believe in an afterlife: “Throughout history it has been precisely those who believed most strongly in the next world who did the most to improve this one. That’s what you would expect. If you believe the road you’re on goes nowhere, you don’t take it too seriously. If you believe it goes to somewhere important, you keep it up.”
Kreeft also makes this observation: “Long ago, Lucretius, the ancient Roman philosopher, let the cat out of the bag when he said that we should stop believing in life after death because then we don’t have to be afraid of hell.”
Interesting. I suspect many atheists cling to their worldview precisely because it allows them to ignore the righteousness and judgment of God and avoid any eternal consequences for their actions today.
Whether or not there is life after death is, of course, something we cannot prove scientifically. (But at the moment of our death, each and every one of us will find out the correct answer!)
Like everyone in America, Steven Pinker has the right to free speech, especially speech others find offensive. But when he claims that belief in an afterlife is a “malignant delusion,” those of us who disagree also must speak out. As the 20th century body count indicates, NOT believing in an afterlife is truly the most malignant of delusions.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Watch Out for the ‘Quarantine Fifteen’

An interesting phenomenon of the Covid-19 health crisis is the “Quarantine Fifteen,” the 15 extra pounds many people have gained since early March. If you do a Google Image search for the phrase “Quarantine snacks memes,” you’ll see that some very witty folks online have way too much free time on their Cheeto-stained hands.
When a person’s regular routine is disrupted, it causes stress. The regular routines of countless millions of people were not just disrupted a few months ago, they were turned upside-down. As a result, our society is pushing the needle on the stress meter way past the red line.
I’ve been told that some people react to stress by tensing up and losing their appetites. I’ve never actually met anyone like this. Other folks, who I have met, react to stress by mindlessly shoveling chocolate covered tater tots into their faces, only stopping when their arms get too tired. Or maybe those were peanut butter covered Oreos. Either option works fine for me, because I am — surprise, surprise — a member of this particular group.
To give you an idea, when public events were suddenly cancelled back in March, I heard a report on the radio that items such as toilet paper and canned goods were disappearing from store shelves. My first thought was, “Oh, that’s silly. I’m sure people aren’t panicking and hoarding supplies just because we have to keep our distance from each other for a while.”
Out of curiosity, I stopped by a Walmart on the way to work the next morning to see for myself. The paper goods aisle was stripped completely bare, and in the can goods aisle, the only item that remained was one small, dented can of tomato paste. As I stood there, I could feel anxiety welling up within me. “Uh oh,” I thought, “Maybe this is a real crisis.”
I walked to the next aisle and noticed there was no shortage of snack foods. So, I grabbed a party-sized bag of Fritos, two packages of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and a jumbo box of Pop Tarts the size of a small microwave. I stored these items in my file cabinets at work, and every time I heard a disturbing news report on the radio about infection rates and death tolls, I quickly reached for a little emotional comfort. (Hey, at least it wasn’t vodka, right?)
In honor of the Quarantine Fifteen, I composed a song parody. With apologies to music legend Bob Dylan, you can sing this to the tune of “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
How many pounds must a man put on
Before his pants will not fit?
How many snacks can he eat at one time
Before his heart wants to quit?
Yes’n how many carbs will it takes till he knows
Stress-eating has no benefit?
The answer, it seems, is quarantine fifteen
The answer is quarantine fifteen.
Yes’n how many months will this shutdown go on
Before all your arteries clog?
Yes’n how many days have you been in your house
Your brain function turning to fog?
Yes’n how many times can you binge-watch TV
Before you look just like a hog?
The answer, it seems, is quarantine fifteen
The answer is quarantine fifteen.
Yes’n how many times can you crawl into bed
With Fritos, some wine, and a pie?
Yes’n how many Zoom meetings can you endure
Before you break down and cry?
Yes’n how many times can you stand on the scale
And hear it say, “One at a time”?
The answer, it seems, is quarantine fifteen
The answer is quarantine fifteen.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Did God Have Evil Plans?

I was doing a little Bible reading the other day (yes, I know that’s unusual, since I’m Catholic), and I stumbled across the following verse in the book of Jonah: “When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, He repented of the evil He had threatened to do to them; He did not carry it out” (Jonah 3:10).
Whoa, wait a minute. These words clearly say that God repented of the evil He planned to do to the city of Nineveh. What gives here? Is it possible that God Almighty (1) planned to do evil to a group of people, and then (2) repented of His evil plans?
That doesn’t sound like God. That sounds more like a crime boss who had a change of heart moments before giving the order to have his rivals murdered.
Well, let’s see if we can figure this out. First, as Catholics, we believe what the Catechism says about the Word of God, that is, the Bible is divinely inspired and everything in it teaches important truths about God and humanity. So, we have to accept that every word of the Bible, including Jonah 3:10, teaches an important theological truth.
Many people conclude that God Almighty must have changed over time. The thinking goes something like this: Thousands of years ago, as recorded in the early books of the Old Testament, God was often in a bad mood, and would do things like strike people dead, drown Pharoah’s entire army in the Red Sea, destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone, and threaten to crush Nineveh if it’s citizens did not repent. But over the centuries, God kind of mellowed and, in the person of Jesus Christ, told everyone to chill out. The new message was all about love and forgiveness, for example, when Jesus told the adulterous woman, “Neither do I condemn you.”
If God’s personality changed over the years, if He mellowed out and lightened up after going through His rambunctious “fire and brimstone period,” then He wouldn’t be God. One of the basic definitions of the Almighty Creator is that He is eternal and unchanging. God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.
It’s not that God has changed; it’s that the literary styles of chronicling God’s actions have changed. As Catholics, we believe the authors of Scripture were definitely under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The biblical writings are true. But we believe the authors employed their own particular writing styles, abilities, and cultural understandings when crafting the documents that later were included in the Holy Bible. The authors were not merely stenographers, writing down word-for-word what God was dictating to them. They recorded accurate theological truths, often while using literary styles that were popular in their day and age. Some of these literary styles included allegories, parables, apocalyptic visions, and attributing human characteristics to God. I think that might have been at play when the prophet Jonah’s adventures were written down.
Almighty God is all loving and merciful, and at the same time He is all just and righteous. When the Bible says He “threatened” to do “evil” to the city of Nineveh if they did not repent, that simply may have been a literary technique to describe God’s righteousness and the city’s sinfulness. And when it says God “repented” of the “evil” He planned to do, that also may be a way of describing God’s mercy.
Please don’t fret. God does not plan evil, as He is 100% holy and good. And He doesn’t need to repent of His plans or actions, because being 100% holy and good means He’s never thought or done anything bad.
So, feel free to continue reading your Bible, even if you’re a fellow Catholic, like me, and people are surprised to learn that you to read Scripture. But watch out for those quirky literary techniques.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Musings on the National Pastime

Back in late February, when baseball spring training camps were in full swing, if someone had said to me, “Bill, I predict by mid-June, the Red Sox will be undefeated and the Yankees will be winless!” I would’ve replied, “Impossible. That would be great if true, but impossible.”
Well, here we are in the second week of June, and the Red Sox have not lost a game yet this year, while the Yankees have not won a game. Of course, it’s really not great because you can plug the names of any two teams into that sentence and it technically is true. That’s what happens when the first half of an entire season, if not more, gets wiped out because a contagious microscopic bugger turned the world upside-down.
By this time each year, I usually write a baseball-themed essay, focused on how well or poorly the Red Sox are doing. Since I can’t write about that, instead I’ll discuss what it’s been like for baseball fans to get their daily fix watching nothing be reruns.
Each area team has its own cable network. For the Red Sox, it’s NESN. The Yankees are on the YES Network, and SNY shows the Mets games. Almost every evening these networks show “classics,” that is, famous games the respective teams played in the past. It’s been fun going down memory lane, and seeing old favorites back in action, such as Fisk, Rice, Lynn, Yaz, Roger, Nomar, Pedro, Schilling, and Big Papi. For the Mets there’s Seaver, Swoboda, Agee, Gooden, Strawberry, Hernandez, Wright, and Harvey.
And you know what? Even though I’m a Red Sox fan, I do appreciate the talented Yankee players from the good ol’ days, like Munson, Nettles, Guidry, Rivers, Jeter, O’Neill, Mariano, Bernie, and Posada.
I’ve watched some absolutely classic and historic contests: the 1978 one-game playoff (known as the “Bucky bleepin’ Dent” game) and the 1986 World Series (known as the “ball through Buckner’s legs” Series). See? Since the Sox won four World Series in recent years, I now can talk about Bucky and Buckner without crumpling to the floor and sobbing in the fetal position.
Other classic games broadcast during the past couple of months include Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, the 1969 Miracle Mets, the 2004 Red Sox comeback, and key games during the 2013 “Boston Strong” season in the wake of the Marathon terrorist bombing. There also have been plenty of old games featuring walk-off homers, no-hitters, and bench-clearing brawls. 
With these “classic” games, the featured team never loses. Every night I channel surf between the three networks and I know the Sox, Yanks, and Mets are sure to win. It’s gotten comical, and I’ve reached the point where I’d rather see the Red Sox lose a game as long as the outcome is in doubt while I’m watching.
However, there is one huge advantage to watching reruns of “classic” games: the telecasts end exactly two hours after they begin. That’s right, there are no tedious three-and-a-half and four-hour ballgames, with a combined 19 bases on balls and 13 pitching changes. They edit boring innings out of the classic games, so they end right on time.
This two-hour time limit is so refreshing! Do you remember those “Bataan death march” games in London last summer? Two games were played, with each one close to five hours long! That was embarrassing. Afterward, many British people commented, “I say, we thought the rudest thing Americans ever did to us was throw our tea into Boston Harbor. These two games were much more offensive!”
Well, this week NESN is broadcasting “Pedro Martinez pitching gems.” Tonight the Sox play Baltimore. Gee, I wonder who will win?

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

A Dream of Civility Was Frightening

The other night I had a terrible nightmare. I dreamed that all politicians, journalists, and letter-to-the-editor writers declared in unison: “We know that everyone sincerely tried to do their best in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Mistakes probably were made, but since the impact of this virus was unprecedented, we don’t want to place any blame. We just want to analyze what happened so we’ll be better prepared if another pandemic occurs.”
Then my dream shifted, and I saw the President of the United States on my TV screen. He said, “I’ve been in discussions with my good friends, Speaker Pelosi and Governor Cuomo, and we are creating a bipartisan task force to determine what medical supplies are needed to deal with future health crises, and we will begin stockpiling these items right away.”
Next, I heard Senator Chris Murphy’s voice on my radio. He said, “I want to commend President Trump for working around the clock to deal with this unique challenge. Obviously, no matter who was president when this pandemic hit, there would’ve been tens of thousands of deaths and millions of lost jobs. So, Senator Blumenthal and I have been making phone calls to the members of our party to remind them that it would be unfair to cite health and economic statistics during the election campaign this year. We, of course, want to win or lose elections based on our ability to govern, not by taking cheap shots at our opponents.”
My dream became blurry again and I heard muffled voices in the background. Then my TV screen came into focus, and I saw Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow co-hosting a panel discussion. Sen. Ted Cruz thanked fellow panelist Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for her efforts to keep Michigan citizens safe. “I might have done things a bit differently,” Cruz said politely, “but since none of us has ever faced anything like this before, you did what you thought was best.”
Whitmer smiled graciously and said, “Thank you, Ted. And by the way, your tweets are hilarious!”
Then the camera shifted back to Hannity and Maddow. Rachel smiled and said, “We have a big announcement to make. Just like our friends Joe and Mika, Sean and I have fallen in love and we’re to be married in the fall!” Everyone clapped and offered congratulations.
I tossed and turned, as these bizarre and frightening images kept flashing in my slumbering brain. Finally, my alarm clock went off. I sat up quickly, my breathing rapid and shallow. My tee shirt was drenched in sweat.
I stumbled out of bed and went into the living room, where I picked up the remote control and turned on the TV. The first image I saw was Nancy Pelosi, who was passionately shouting, “What do you expect from a morbidly obese idiot, especially when most of that fat is just below his hideous orange hair?!”
Then the TV cut to a video clip of the president, who said, “I really don’t understand how San Franciscans can vote for that wrinkled old sea hag. She looks like she died three years ago!”
I switched the channel, and saw Joe patting Mika on the shoulder as she wailed, “I can’t believe that pile of dung is actually our president! If Hillary was in charge, there would’ve been zero coronavirus deaths! I want to renounce my American citizenship!”
Once more I clicked the button on my remote, and saw the image of White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany leaping from the stage and putting Jim Acosta in a headlock. As Acosta struggled to speak, I smiled and said to myself, “Thank goodness it was just a bad dream. Everything is back to normal.”

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

We Should Not Fear Death

There’s an old expression: “Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to go tomorrow.”
This silly quip tells us a lot about ourselves. First, it tells us that each of us knows deep down that we are going to die someday. Second, when that day finally arrives, we would much rather spend eternity in Heaven than in the alternative. Next, this expression is humorous because it highlights the truth that we don’t want our inevitable death to occur anytime soon. Finally, we’re reminded that life here on earth is precious, while death is frightening.
The proper Christian view of death is that it is indeed inevitable, but it should not be frightening for those who trust in Christ. The words of Jesus in the Gospels, plus the writings of St. Paul, make it clear that death is a transition from our earthly struggles to the much more glorious joy of God’s eternal kingdom.
Life here on earth, despite its pain and heartache, is a very precious gift from God. Life never should be taken lightly, and certainly never should be ended prematurely. Human life is sacred, from the moment of conception until natural death.
Our secular culture has the wrong view of death. Mostly, we ignore death as if it doesn’t even exist. We do everything we can to pretend we’re going to live forever, and when someone does die, we’re shocked and can’t even bring ourselves to use the words “death” or “died.” We instead say the person “passed away,” or “expired,” or “succumbed.” Recently, I heard someone say, “We lost Frank back in March.” You lost Frank? Well, shouldn’t you go look for him? Or at least file a missing person report with the police?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should be thrilled when someone dies, especially when it’s unexpected. And we’re not supposed to throw a party if the doctor tells us we have a terminal disease. Death is definitely a sad event. The main reason it’s sad is because death is the end of our earthly life, which is, as I already mentioned, a precious gift.
In recent months, most of us have been confronted with death much more frequently than in normal times. The COVID-19 health crisis has made death the lead story on every newscast since early March. On a daily basis we get the latest updates about how many people died in our community, in our state, in our country, and throughout the world. Although the numbers aren’t in the Bubonic Plague category, it’s a fact that tens of thousands of Americans died because of the coronavirus, most of whom would still be alive today except for that nasty disease.
It’s quite likely this pandemic has caused many folks to think about death for the first time in years. That’s a good thing. Death should never be ignored, as our culture has tried desperately to do during the past half century or so.
Of course, it’s not healthy to dwell on the subject and obsess about dying. That’s morbid and will drain all the joy out of living. But ignoring death is foolish, too. We should accept that death is real and it will happen to every single one of us. That’s an undeniable fact.
Knowing that death is real and inevitable will help us to remember that life is fleeting. And since life is sacred and precious, we must cherish each and every moment we’ve been given. 
Death is the ultimate mystery, but we need not be fearful. Why? Because Jesus conquered death. If we trust in Him, our last day on earth will be our first day in His glorious kingdom.
We should cherish life and not fear death. Even though we desire to go to Heaven, God understands if we don’t really want to go tomorrow.
* * *
Note: please consider reading Scott Hahn’s new book, Hope to Die – The Christian Meaning of Death and the Resurrection of the Body. A very timely topic in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.