“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” [John 12:25]
I find these words about hating your life in this world troubling taken at face value. Isn’t life a precious gift that we should cherish? And if we’re all supposed to hate our lives in this world, are we also supposed to hate each other’s lives? Should we prefer never having been born?
The way I make peace with this hard saying is to think of it as provocative exaggeration: the challenge is to discover the truth for ourselves, much like in a parable. There is such a thing as healthy self-care, healthy self-regard and healthy enjoyment of this life. Jesus did, after all, come as healer and giver of new life—and he is remembered as enjoying dinner parties to the point of being accused of gluttony and drunkenness.
But the words of Jesus stand—whatever they mean. Perhaps I’m guilty of trying to tame the wildness of the Gospel, but today I’m hearing his words as a warning against excessive self-absorption—something I’m guilty of more often than I would care to admit.
And so Constance and Her Companions, whose feast we keep today, come as antidote to the tendency to excessive self-absorption. Constance and Her Companions (also known as the Martyrs of Memphis) lost their lives ministering to the sick in the great Yellow Fever epidemic of 1878. These brave women and men knowingly risked their lives caring for others in conditions of indescribable horror. We are all called to follow Jesus and sometimes the way leads us to Golgotha, literally giving up our lives.
Most of life, however, is not lived on Golgotha—at least for most of us most of the time. We find ourselves needing to balance a healthy, life-giving concern for our own well-being with a healthy, life-giving concern for the well-being of others. It’s not all about me, and it’s not all about you: it’s about all of us together. Did he not say, “Love your neighbor as yourself”?
Likewise, it’s not all about life in this world, and it’s not all about life in the next: it’s all about the whole of all life together. Isn’t a holistic wholeness what the whole holiness thing is about?
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