Escaping death

By Father Joseph Breighner

Woody Allen was once asked by a reporter: “Do you want to attain immortality through your works?” Allen replied: “No. I want to attain immortality by not dying!”

Most of us would probably prefer never to depart. Death is not very high on most people’s lists of things they want to do. We would prefer, somehow or other, to escape death.

Houdini was an escape artist. In the Oct. 30, 2015, issue of the Baltimore Sun, Frederick Rasmussen wrote about one of Houdini amazing escapes. “Houdini was no stranger to Baltimore, and on April 26, 1916, a crowd of 50,000 men, women, and children jammed old Sun Square at Baltimore and Charles streets. They came to witness him escape from a block and tackle and rope that had been attached to a crossbar jutting out from the cornice of the old Sun Building.

Suspended upside down with his feet attached to the rope, he managed within three minutes to get his hands free from the straightjacket in which he had been bound and remove the jacket.”

Yet Houdini could not escape death. He died of peritonitis in Detroit after two failed operations attempted to save his life. Ironically, he died Oct. 31, 1926 – Halloween!

Houdini could not escape dying. He did promise, however, that if he could, he would escape from the next world after his death. As Rasmussen notes: “Eighty nine years later, the world is still waiting.”

Others of us try to escape dying by diet and healthy lifestyle. I certainly encourage people to do both, but the results can be mixed.

I was reading an obituary of Dr. Francis I. Codd, a physician, in the Oct. 31, 2015 issue of the Sun. Doctor Codd was a lifetime member and corporator of St. John the Evangelist in Severna Park. His son, Thomas, noted that his father enjoyed sweets: “His longevity seemed to be related to his daily intake of Giant Food brand chocolate milk, Entenmann’s Fudge Iced Golden Cake and an occasional chocolate milkshake. He outlived most of his contemporaries.” The good doctor lived to be 95!

It would seem that enjoying life might be the best way to extend life.

And, yet, despite our best efforts, extending life is the best we can do. We can’t avoid dying. Even Jesus couldn’t avoid dying, but he did avoid death. And his resurrection is the basis of our faith. As St. Paul said so well: “If Christ is not raised, in vain is our faith. We are the most pitiable of people.” Then Paul adds: “But Christ has been raised!”

And Christ’s promise is that we will be raised as well. This resurrection is not just a spiritual experience. As we know from the resurrection passages, Christ’s body could be touched. He could eat. He could appear in various places. We call Christ’s body a glorified body, not just a spirit. And the promise is that, if we put our faith in Christ, then we will share the resurrection of Christ.

The world focuses on delaying death, and wants to sell us all kinds of drugs and devices to prolong physical life. That’s all well and good. The world appeals to our human egos which think that the death of the body is the death of us.

We believe we cannot die. Yes, our bodies will die and decay. But “who we are” continues to exist, first as spirits, and ultimately as glorified bodies sharing in the resurrection of Christ.

You and I are saved by the love of Christ who said that he had come that “You might have life, and life to the fullest.” We can share the fears of all humanity as we face the death of our bodies. But we do not share the world’s despair. Our hopes are in Christ, and our hopes will not be disappointed.

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Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.