I was reminded of this when I recently visited the mausoleum at Holy Cross Mortuary in Culver City (Montgomery & Mullay, 1961) and spent a long time gazing through its stained glass windows.
I don't really like the idea of going through life trying to "win" something that'll happen to me after I die. Who wants to live forever, anyway?
The farther I stray from my Catholic upbringing, the more I've been able to come to terms with the religion I was raised on—one that's merely a means to an end. And, at least in theory, it all sounds like a losing proposition.
If you mourn, you are blessed.
If you are blessed, you'll be consoled by Jesus.
But that might not happen until you get to his kingdom.
And, as he says, his kingdom is not of this world.
It all boils down to the duality of redemption.
I remember my father talking about a points system—"brownie points," if you will—in the Catholic faith, likening it to when neither boxer knocks the other one out in a dead-heat match. Whichever opponent gets the most points from the judges is the one who wins.
Dad said most people aren't so perfect as to automatically join Jesus in paradise, nor so evil as to go straight to damnation. So, in theory, where you go after purgatory—or whether you ever get out of purgatory at all—depends on how many points you earned before you shuffled off your mortal coil.
And if you've got enough points, you can "redeem" them for your eternal redemption.
This concept of religion-as-transaction is just madness to me, but there are plenty of Catholics (and other Christians) who both literally and figuratively try to buy their way into Heaven.
If you throw some money in the collection basket, you earn points. If you eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus Christ who died for our sins, you earn points. And if you don't—well, I'm not sure. You either just don't earn points, or maybe you get docked.
I'm glad I don't believe in points anymore—because if I still did, I'm sure I would be obsessed with keeping some kind of mental tally of how many I had or didn't have at any given time.
I believe in karma, of course—and I'm currently working on paying off some of my karmic debt. I pay it forward when I can. But it's not to get anything in return.
I'm not trying to get anywhere, either.
But by avoiding suffering—and easing the suffering of others—am I depriving us all of some reward at the end of it all?
Why must we live with our sights so focused on what happens after we die?
It's like spending all your waking hours hoping you'll sleep well when you turn in for the night.
But if you don't have a full and fulfilling day—if you don't really exhaust yourself and exhaust all the possibilities that surround you—you'll lie awake in that bed, in the dark, ruminating over how your day could've gone.
When you die, you don't have the luxury of waking up in the morning and starting all over again. If there is an afterlife after all, you might end up somewhere but maybe not the somewhere you were hoping for.
And what consolation is that?
It seems better to me to take your shots while you can and not pull any punches. Don't leave your fate or even your legacy up to interpretation. You're more likely to be judged based on what you do rather than what you believe.
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