St. Pope John Paul II talked much about the culture of death throughout his pontificate. What does that mean? Perhaps we can relate his point to a culture or society that is dying and rotting deep from within, especially one that does not want and reject faith. It is an unfortunate society that only wants things that distract itself from the real emptiness and pains deep from within. It does not want its conscience pricked and challenged because it wants to do whatever it wants. It only wants popular, appealing, and “supportive” voices and not one that speaks the truth.
In a dying society, its members will only desire and care for themselves. This so-called “society” does not want anyone to hold the mirror, diagnose, or reveal the ugly truth that it is festering from within. It does not want to recognize that it is hurt with wounds that are not healing because it cannot accept that it has a problem. Like an addict who is hurting, it is easier to attack others and silent the voice that invites conversion and change. A dying soul or society does not want anyone to know that it is actually hurting. Unfortunately, it often ends up hurting others and is locked within its own self-created pities.
In order to understand the differences between the cultures of life and death, we should also understand the differences between faith and religiosity. The first one changes, forms, and lifts our heart to the truth while the latter only cares about doing certain things to get something desired back in return. True faith affects life, forms a culture that is life-giving, self-donating, sacrificial, and grounded in the Lord and His divine and eternal laws, else it becomes a dying and egoistical shell version that seems to be religious.
Our faith prepares us for eternal life as God‘s children, and not just for this world alone! Nonetheless, too many of us have traded this eternal life for something so quick and short-lived, something so vain and temporary instead of the everlasting joy of what it means to be with our Creator forever.
Hans Christian Anderson wrote the beautiful novel, The Little Mermaid, and it became popular when Disney made a movie out of it. Nevertheless, I believe that the novel bears many meaningful values and lessons than the movie because it teaches the beauty of love and sacrifice. But, in a more wonderful way, it highlights the beauty and precious value of the human soul (versus the apparently fascinating mermaid soul).
The first interesting fact to notice is that when the Little Mermaid becomes melancholic and asks her grandmother if humans can live forever. Her grandmother explains that humans have a much shorter lifespan than a mermaid’s 300 years. However, when mermaids die, they turn to sea foam and cease to exist, while humans have an eternal soul that lives on in Heaven. How wonderful is that!
We often forget that our soul is eternal, made by God and for Him. He willed and chose to give us life before we were formed in our own mother’s womb. Therefore, as a beautiful creation in His own image and likeness, capable to love and endowed with free will, we need to remember that nothing in this finite and limited world can ever fill the void that was made for the infinite. Unfortunately, we have oftentimes traded the everlasting for the short-filling and temporary pleasures in this life. And, too oftentimes, we have allowed those things to deter and steal our joy away from us, making us lose focus, dampen our hope, fill our lives with anxieties, resentment, and anger because we are too focused on getting what we want alone.
As we get a little bit further in the story, especially at the part when the prince’s parents encourage their son to marry the neighboring princess in an arranged marriage. When the prince and neighboring princess celebrate their new marriage on a wedding ship, her heart breaks. She thinks of all that she has sacrificed and of all the pains she has endured for the prince. She despairs, thinking of the death that awaits her, but before dawn, her sisters rise out of the water and bring her a dagger that the Sea Witch has given them in exchange for their long, beautiful hair.
She is given a choice! If the Little Mermaid kills the prince and lets his blood drip on her feet, she will become a mermaid once more. It means that all her suffering will end and she will live out her full life in the ocean with her family. However, she cannot bring herself to kill the sleeping prince lying with his new wife. She throws the dagger and herself off the ship into the water just as dawn breaks.
Her body dissolves into foam; but instead of ceasing to exist, she feels the warm sun and discovers that she has turned into a luminous and ethereal earthbound spirit — a daughter of the air. As the Little Mermaid ascends into the atmosphere, she is greeted by others who tell her she has become like them because she strove with all her heart to obtain an immortal soul. Because of her selflessness, she is given the chance to earn her own soul by doing good deeds for mankind for 300 years, hence will one day rise up into Heaven.
I think this is such a beautiful story of one’s willingness to sacrifice one’s self and choosing the ultimate good instead of what is simply beneficial for one’s self alone. She could have chosen what she wants and has things go her way if she would just focus on herself. Nonetheless, she chooses to do what is right, honorable, and just out of love. How many of us can actually say or willing to do the same thing?
The moral life and its virtuous willingness to seek the ultimate good is what defines us as Christ‘s disciples and as believers. Our words and actions, lives and deeds give life when we choose the highest and ultimate good beyond ourselves, what society wants, what seems to be the popular options or opinions. It is hard because it is counter-cultural, unnatural in going against our ego and its wants, and sacrificial when we have to personally will to give ourselves to the utmost extent, especially for the sake of what is virtuous, right, and true.
I am scared to think that if an age of religious persecution happens in the United States of America, how many would be willing to give their lives for the truth of the Gospel, or will they simply cut, eliminate, and remove what is inconvenient for their lifestyle?!? I think it is so easy for us to crucify, condemn, and hurt other people with our opinions, voices, ideologies, religiosity, or any other humanistic or self-centered causes instead of dying to ourselves for the truth. I do not think that many of us have the courage to stand by the truth, to defend it, to live for it. Due to consumeristic and egocentric versions of religiosity and the comfortable version of “faith,” many of us have become weak, cowardice, and at the same time, demanding things to only be our ways. I am scared to ask how many will be strong, stand their ground, and willingly choose to be faithful to the Lord even if it means martyrdom!?! I am really scared to even ask for show of hands.
Faith is not just a legalistic or orthopraxis set of ideologies, doctrines, and religisosity, it is a living one that is grounded in both Sacred Scriptures and Holy Tradition. We live our faith by having the heart of the Church, to understand and embrace why she teaches and holds what is dear, integral, and living part of our unbroken magisterium. We are called to change our lives and seek conversion instead of worrying about changing or diminishing scriptural and ecclesiastical doctrines and teachings for the sake of what is comfortable and good for us. Christianity requires discipleship, which is the letting go of our lifestyle and follow the Lord instead of asking Him to leave everything in order to follow us.
Our soul is eternal and its destiny is not here on this earth. That is why no matter how much things we try to fill it, it cannot be filled except by the everlasting and infinite love of God, because we are meant for much more than this world! We are only living when we live, breath, radiate, and draw life from Him. We have nothing really to give until we receive from His infinite and everlasting love. Without a doubt, if our faith is not grounded in the Lord and focused on matters that are eternal, it will become a self-serving and dying one. We might be able to be appealing and attractive for a good (short) while, but we have nothing to give unless we draw waters from the Lord. Indeed, we can only change our current culture of death by being counter-cultural and build up a culture of life that gives, nourishes, and radiates God in our words and actions, lives and deeds.