How to get ready now
What is the worst ad campaign you’ve ever seen? When I was a boy, I was told about the Chevy Nova, then the best-selling car in America. The story goes that no one bought it in Mexico. Why not? Well, in Latin, “Nova” means “new.” In Spanish, however, “No va” means “doesn’t go.” Apparently, someone didn’t do his homework.
What is the worst ad campaign you’ve ever seen for the faith? When I was a new priest, I found a glossy campus ministry brochure addressed to incoming freshmen. It read, “Liturgy is ‘IN.’ Worship has no social cost!” (Can you imagine the disdain that such words would have stirred up in? In other words, going to Mass is what all the cool kids are doing this year! “Come join our Catholic hobby!” doesn’t seem to be a compelling rallying cry, does it?
In contrast, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was murdered by the Nazis, wrote in his haunting book, The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.” How might many self-identified Christians respond to that bold and shocking statement? I think they might protest with words like these, “Why would Christ ask us to come and die? Doesn’t He know how busy we are? Doesn’t He know how important we are? We are doing vast and urgent things! Doesn’t He know that we are busy advocating for social justice, reproductive freedom, racial equality, gender equality, inclusion, diversity, tolerance and dialogue? Doesn’t He know that we are busy fighting against racism, sexism, ageism, speciesism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and Islamophobia? Doesn’t He know that we are busy raising awareness about safer sex, climate change, renewable energy, ethanol, recycling, sustainability and income inequality? Doesn’t He know that we are busy apologizing for the Crusades, Galileo, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the Middle Ages and the Dark Ages? Doesn’t He know that we are busy going to meetings at the United Nations? And now I hear that Fidel Castro is receiving visitors again, and there is ever so much wealth to redistribute, so, really, we simply must—graciously—decline Christ’s invitation to ‘come and die.’” I think many self-identified Christians might say that, or something like it. They seem to suggest as much by their behavior.
But I want to return again to the question, “Why would Christ bid us to come and die?” There can be only one reason. It is because Christ knows—and apparently He knows better than many Christians—that there is something so wrong with our world, something so wrong with fallen human nature, something so wrong with us, with you and me, that the only way out of the mess is to die our way out of it. The only human effort that can contribute to the betterment of the human condition, in this life and in the next, is to go to Calvary with Christ, to break the grip of Satan by means of a crucifying sacrifice, and to rise with Christ so that we might become a new creation.
In other words, Christ’s call to us to come and die is a perfect act of mercy. It is our only hope for human dignity in this life and eternal happiness in the next. Accepting Christ’s call to come and die, accepting the baptism which He undergoes, accepting the chalice which He must drink (Mark 10:38) is the only sane choice. All other paths, all other options, all other efforts, apart from union with Christ in His Cross and Resurrection constitute a blind and futile madness.
It is inevitable that Christ calls us to die to ourselves, die to our old way of thinking, feeling and acting. Bonhoeffer notes: “In fact every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But we do not want to die, and therefore Jesus Christ and his call are necessarily our death as well as our life. The call to discipleship, the baptism in the name of Jesus Christ means both death and life.” Christ intends for us to die to sin and rise to life in Him.