A couple of years ago a children's movie about a family of super heroes called "The Incredibles" explored themes like family, honesty, and values. In one scene a man attempts to jump to his death from a tall building only to be heroically saved by Mr. Incredible. Instead of gratitude, the man files suit against Mr. Incredible because, as he says, "you ruined my death."
Throughout our lives, we are barraged with the idea that the way we live our life is the way we will die. If we live the fast life we will probably die sooner rather than later. On the other hand, if we live a life of organic multivitamins and meditation we'll live forever. If we follow the celebrities, do the same exercises they do, and raise our kids in the same way, then our lives will blossom and will mirror the "reality we see on TV. It's easy to get caught in that whirlpool. Flip the channels on the TV and before you know it, a dull envy begins to bud and we think we need to live just like they do.
Lifestyle packaging is no different in Christian circles either. Face it. Most of us are living a hedonistic Christianity or we fake asceticism. Neither really works. We wear our lifestyle like a suit of lies, because we never learned how to end our life.
The truth is that our death-style determines our lifestyle. The thought of death, as startling as it seems, is liberating because it compells us to concentrate on living.
Many great saints of the Church said repeatedly that we should remember our death. Why? Because unless we plan on how to leave this world we will wander aimlessly through it, occupying ourselves with a million little things but changing nothing. St. Irenaeus wrote: "The business of the Christian is nothing else than to be ever preparing for death."
When we know the kind of death we want, we will know the kind of life we ought to live. Since everything "here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life?" asks the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:11 MSG).
What is a holy life? St. John Climacus described it this way: "Do whatever good you may. Speak evil of no one. Rob no one. Tell no lie. Despise no one and carry no hate. Do not separate yourself from the church assemblies. Show compassion to the needy. Do not be a cause of scandal to anyone. Stay away from the bed of another ... If you do all this, you will not be far from the kingdom of heaven." St. Isaiah the Anchorite advised: "He who ponders each day and says to himself that he has just today to remain in the world, will never sin against God." .
We are expected to change ourselves, everyone we encounter, even the world. Christ commands us to arise and go! What defense shall we give at the hour of our death? Will the cloud of witnesses testify to our world-shattering life? St. John of Damascus wrote: "Vain are all human things that have no existence after death." Will we leave with a life lived well or with a life well lived?
In 2004, Steve Jobs CEO of Apple Computer was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Thankfully, it was treatable and now he is as healthy as ever. He recounted his experience to a graduating class of Stanford University:
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything-all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure-these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.
If we don't want our life to just fade away then we must see ourselves beyond this life. None of the things that we think we can't live without means anything beyond this life. Anthony Bloom said, "Nothing can be stored -- nothing except the Kingdom of God itself." Remember your death, and behold you live.
John Kapsalis has an M.T.S from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.