Choose life

Hands and waterI start every grocery list by scribbling: Milk. Bread. Eggs (cage free only, says the vegetarian daughter). Life.

That last item? I bought six boxes of it last week, on sale. Though the boxes have gotten smaller lately, a bit worrisome, six of them still ought to carry us through a few weeks.

“I came,” says Jesus, “that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”

Life, the cereal, has exercised a magnetic hold on my daughter for more than a decade now. Her dogged loyalty alone should qualify her to star in a commercial. Nothing—not even hot oatmeal—can lure her away for long.

Looking down at one’s list in the grocery aisle each week to see “Life” scrawled there has a definite salutary effect. As I scour food labels for lurking sodium content, for the iniquitous Trans Fat and his nearly-as-nefarious henchman Saturated Fat, Life reminds me that none of this food-policing will extend my life indefinitely. Saints Francis and Jerome were sometimes portrayed holding a skull to point out the nearness of death, but as for me, I’m going out to buy Life in the grocery store.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”

Last week some friends invited us to a memorial Mass marking the one-year anniversary of the death of their son. A 26-year-old who had packed much into his short life, he died in a hiking accident in Thailand, where he was teaching for the year. Before Mass his mother, my friend since I was a teenager, stood to speak of his passion for life, for making the world a better place.

I remembered her telling me about the day he arrived home from doing AIDS education in Africa, with his hair in dreadlocks. About his farming experiment in India. And how he found, to his surprise, that he loved teaching as much as he loved Thailand, where he lived in a treehouse.

Friends and cousins brought up the gifts, which symbolized the outpouring of grief and memory over the past year. His uncle and father reflected on how his presence lingers among those who love him. And everyone raised their voices in song, defying death to have the final word in this saddest of stories.

I found myself thinking, where else could we gather on such a day?

Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“You don’t have to be afraid of death, because you’ve already died with Christ!” our former pastor would roar. (I think my friend’s son had already figured this one out, young as he was.) On the Sundays after Easter Father Don Headley would put this robust belief into action in what is daintily known as “the sprinkling rite” at the start of each Mass. My kids would jostle each other to stand closest to the aisle. Father Don liked his symbols big. Using an evergreen branch and a giant bowl, he would fling great quantities of water at everyone in the congregation. No delicate sprinkling, no politely tapping half the water off the branch back into the bowl so no one gets really wet. He launched the water at us. No half measures. “New life means everything!” said each splat. “Dive in!”

—by Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2012 Best in Class award from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past three years running. Here’s a sample issue.

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