Monday, June 8, 2015

The Only Sadness in Life

Kevin Hansen (1982-2015)
Stalin's cynical adage may be accurate--"the death of one is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic"--, but sometimes the death of one can seem even more tragic than usual.

Perhaps it's a shocking traffic accident.  Perhaps it's a devastating heart attack or stroke.  But when a seemingly healthy 33 year-old man leaves work at the end of the week and is dead in seven days, it is hard for family and friends not to be shocked.  When the 33 year-old is a theology teacher at a Catholic high school, the shock waves reverberate to wide circles of former and current students, as well as to grateful parents and families. 

However, when the 33 year-old himself has spent his relatively short life giving to others with passion and purpose, and when his family responds with the witness of a Catholic faith deeply lived, the seeming tragedy begins to look more like the Paschal Mystery played out once again.  Indeed, when Jesus Christ is the Person who motivates both the gift of self and the courage of the grieving family, the dying seems to somehow already imply a rising.  The loss seems somehow laced with a promise. 

In a funeral filled with memorable moments which still inspire conversation months later, the family of Kevin Hansen and his school community were able to point to some of his favorite sayings and quotes.  Mr. Hansen, as he was respectfully and affectionately called, sprinkled the walls of his classroom with the slogans he wanted his students to embody.  They ring out like mission statements for life:  "Doing the right thing is still right, even if no one else is doing it"; "doing the wrong thing is still wrong, even if everyone else is doing it."

Perhaps most inspiring of the featured quotes was a line from a French novelist and poet, Leon Bloy:  "There is only one real sadness in the end, not to have been a saint."

Mr. Hansen certainly knew that no one is perfect, but he reminded his students that everyone is perfectible.  He pointed students and colleagues toward life's immediate and ultimate goal: Being holy, that is, perfectly who God created us to be.  Faith in a God of infinite Love should not dissolve into banalities, but should open us to the Lord's transforming grace, so that we become today who God wants us to be for eternity. 

A living faith in the living God should look differently from a lifeless faith in the empty idols of our age.  A saint lives differently here and now, as well as forever.  A saint sidesteps the sadness of life by helping others find joy even amid great sadness.  A saint inspires us not to hope too small.

Sometimes the "death of one" reminds us that we should all go into the ground like a grain of wheat, which is destined to bear much fruit.