Earlier this month I was having a discussion with my sister about my fear of heights. She had little sympathy for me because she’s done crazy stuff like sky dive and told me I ought to “live” a little and try it. I replied that jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft was counterintuitive to living a long life and that I intended to “live forever or die in the attempt”.
That quote, “live forever or die in the attempt”, has lain dormant in my subconscious for over thirty years and it somehow bubbled to the surface at just the right moment. As some of you may know, it is from the classic satirical novel, Catch 22, by Joseph Heller. It is one of my all-time favorites.
The line is the sentiment of the story’s main protagonist, Captain John Yossarian, a B-25 bombardier flying missions over Italy during World War II. His motivation to “live forever or die in the attempt” came from his obsessive fear that everyone was trying to kill him: the enemy, by trying to shoot him down, and his own superiors, by sending him on more and more missions. The quote itself is representative of the self-defeating logic, the conundrum called Catch 22 which permeates the story, or as Webster’s Dictionary defines it, “a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem”.
After I rebutted my sister with that quote the thought occurred to me that Mr. Heller probably had every intention of writing it the way he did, as a logic defying statement. But, I wondered if he knew that, to us Christians, it was perfectly logical and precisely on the mark?
In the New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, there is a verse that is nearly identical in all three gospels. The version from Matthew 16:25 (NAB) goes:
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
As Christians, we often refer to this as, “Dying to Self”.
It means that we take up our Cross and we follow Christ who died so that we may live.
It means that we do it first through our baptism, when our old self dies and our new self takes life, and then we continue to die to ourselves every day for the rest of our lives as a process of sanctification.
We do this by following Jesus’ example of loving and caring for others before ourselves. A husband dies to himself by making the needs of his wife paramount to his own (Eph 5:25). A mother sacrifices for her children.
We give up many luxuries by tithing and giving back to the Church. We sacrifice our time and talents to seek out and offer charity to the poor and needy in our society.
We forgive others when it is the last thing in the world we want to do. We subordinate our pride and replace it with humility even when it would feel so good to do otherwise.
And, we let go of our will and accept God’s will in all that we do.
It is exactly this drive to “die in the attempt” which we believe will ensure that, once we die in this life, we will “live forever” in the next.
Do you plan to live forever or die in the attempt?
“Lord Jesus, I pray for Your help as I try to follow Your example and do Your will. Please help me remember to: place the needs of my family, friends and neighbors ahead of my own; increase my generosity; forgive when it is difficult to do so; and, for both friends and enemies, to always ‘wish them well’. Amen.”
(The post Live Forever or Die in the Attempt was first published in Reflections of a Lay Catholic)