Recently I heard about a rather fascinating tradition among some of the great missionaries, albeit morbidly bizarre to our confused cultural sensibilities. In eras and regions of particular Christian missionary fervor, it is not uncommon to find references to men and women preparing for their great endeavor by packing not a suitcase, but their own coffins!
Can you imagine that? Through a series of providential events and inspiration, you find yourself preparing to go and share the Good News with people far away. Your plan is to go to your brothers and sisters with the message that evil and sin and death are not the last word: that Jesus Christ, God made man, has descended into the darkness of our fallen world to do battle with the forces of evil. This same Jesus has defeated the fallen angels and shattered their dismal realm of anguished separation from God. He has bridged the gap from nothingness to eternal bliss by offering to draw each human person into the heart of God the Father by becoming "sons in the son", alive with the very Spirit of God!
The Christian faith isn't a club. It isn't a "family tradition" like barbecues or horseshoes. It's life and death. Rather, it transcends even life and death. It is the promise of life beyond death - real life, full life, the life that gives this "life" it's meaning and scope. It's both promise and fulfillment, sacramentally present in this life and perfectly present in the life to come.
How many of us Christians truly understand that at all? How many of us really have the slightest inkling of what we're dealing with? I'm ashamed to admit that I lose sight of this very often. I go about my day with the same frustrations and worries and lack of faith that the most ardent atheists espouse, and when I'm honest, it makes me ashamed.
But what if I did get it? What would my life be like if I tried a little more sincerely to follow the great example of the men and women who have submitted their hearts and minds and their whole selves to God? What would my life be like a year from now if I made even the slightest effort to keep before me the image of the coffin-packing missionary, the man or woman who lives the adage MEMENTO MORI ("Remember Your Death")?
Our society would surely label this a morbidly bizarre and self-loathing attitude that any rational, healthy citizen should reject. Our society does so because our society is deathly ill, deluded, and wildly out of touch with the most basic foundations of reality. For a culture that seems to place the highest premium of all on power (i.e. its pursuit, acquisition, and imposition over others), the notion that life is in fact about daily humble self-donation in preparation for death and eternal life is literally inconceivable.
I for one will take this to prayer today, and by God's grace, tomorrow I may find myself more centered, more joyful, and more thankful for the sheer unmerited blessing that God has made me at all. Praise Him always!