I enter this time of year with trepidation. I prep my student for weeks before it begins. The subject of “death and dying” makes the hair on their necks curl. A friend at school lost her son suddenly the other day. The faculty, staff and students at school ran to her with the greatest compassion. As I felt the grief of this terrible event, I asked my students to pray for those who were experiencing difficulty so that they might find consolation. This prompted me to prepare my students for the difficult subject matter that we would be tackling in the weeks ahead. A student quipped, “Why would you bother us with this stuff?” Frustrated by his lack of willingness to address a major fact of life, I asked, “So I guess that you are immune to death?” He glared back at me without an answer.
Preparing our students for death is a challenge. Our curriculum deals with a discussion on health care and end of life issues. Our school president, Father Philip Eichner is known as a pioneer in this issue for his participation in a court decision (In re Eichner) in which the Health Care Proxy became an important part of the health care process. After a difficult two weeks each February, my weary students always beg, “Aren’t we done with this yet?” As catechists, this subject must be part of our curriculum. Nothing is possible without death. Happiness is not possible without the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus shows every Christian the true meaning of suffering:
Christ drew close above all to the world of human suffering through the fact of having taken this suffering upon his very self. During his public activity, he experienced not only fatigue, homelessness, misunderstanding even on the part of those closest to him, but, more than anything, he became progressively more and more isolated and encircled by hostility and the preparations for putting him to death. Christ is aware of this, and often speaks to his disciples of the sufferings and death that await him: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise”. Christ goes towards his Passion and death with full awareness of the mission that he has to fulfill precisely in this way. Precisely by means of this suffering he must bring it about “that man should not perish, but have eternal life”.
(Salvifici Doloris #16)
We must unite ourselves together with Jesus in our suffering. Every single person has a cross to bear. Without Christ, the weight of that cross is too much to carry. With Christ all suffering and death can make sense because of the possibility of eternal life. We must point our students to the greatest hope: the Resurrection.
The way in which we deal with suffering will determine whether or not we find fulfillment in this life. Christ invites us to follow Him on the way to Calvary.
Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my Cross. Gradually, as the individual takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the Cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him. He does not discover this meaning at his own human level, but at the level of the suffering of Christ. At the same time, however, from this level of Christ the salvific meaning of suffering descends to man’s level and becomes, in a sense, the individual’s personal response. It is then that man finds in his suffering interior peace and even spiritual joy.
In the midst of death, suffering and evil, the first casualty is usually our relationship with God. He becomes the target of our blame. We must impress upon our students that these are the times to grow closer to our God. He, who creates, does everything for a reason. The mystery of God calls us to great faith. Show them that the way to transcend difficulty is through and with Christ.
The subject of “death and dying” is never pleasant. It will always be met with resistance. But Jesus Christ overcomes death with love and new life. Easter Sunday changes everything: our pain, our sorrow and our death. Bring the young people in your world to the tomb and give them hope, His hope!