Die Before You Die

Thomas Griffin 3/22/23

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Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” What are the things and people that we would make the ultimate sacrifice for? Who resides at the center of our lives?

In the season of Lent we all have something that we are sacrificing: a favorite food, less screen time on our phones, social media, or possibly even our morning coffee. Whatever it is that we decided to give up, why did we do it?

If you are like me we often enter Lent with the same mentality as the years prior. I have been giving up ice cream and dessert since I was in middle school, and I still do today. Spiritual maturity, and Jesus himself, asks us to consider why we do the things that we do. These small sacrifices are ways for us to learn how to die to ourselves. They are opportunities for us to be reminded of the fact that God is real, Jesus is God and that he made the ultimate sacrifice for me.

Therefore, when we make sacrifices during the sacred season we are invited to ponder the love Christ had for us when we are tempted to or offered the chance to go back on our promise of sacrifice. Reflecting on Christ more often will bring us closer to him as a real living person and remind us that faith is not an idea or a philosophy to follow but a reckless love story of God’s pursuit for your heart. Inside of that love story, like all love stories, we are called to sacrifice – to die to ourselves for the sake of love for the other. 

I was in attendance at a funeral recently, and the homily was both inspiring and challenging. The priest spoke about how the deceased was a woman of deep prayer and sacrifice (among many other virtuous things). Then he gave a phrase that he admitted that he often cites at funerals, especially when it is so obviously applicable. Jesus asks us to learn how to “die before you die.”

The priest chose the gospel of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies. The only way for that grain to become something more is to sacrifice itself, to die. But in dying it fulfills its purpose. Jesus said, “Whoever loves his life loses it” (John 12:25). Our life is so precious, so valuable, that it can only reach its climax when it is given away in service to others because we were made for love and love entails sacrifice. 

The heroic men and women in our lives and of history were always people of sacrifice. They died to their own selfishness, ego, personal desires, and arbitrary cravings. They consistently died even before their death. In doing so, they mirrored Christ. That sounds nice and holy, but has immense practical implications for one’s life. 

We all know people who clearly make themselves the center of attention. If we are honest, we all do this from time to time. We prefer to speak about ourselves over asking questions to another person in conversation. We place our “wants” over and above the needs of our spouses or kids or coworkers. Jesus had to speak about the grain of wheat and consistently preach about sacrificial love because he knows that the human heart is prone to place itself at the center of the universe. 

Lent comes to us every year in order to break us out of these habits and place us back on track to becoming the men and women we were created to be. In the time we have left this Lent, how can we die to our own ego and selfishness? What are the sacrifices we know that we should make (for our family, in our relationships, in our faith lives, etc.), but that we have been putting off for an extended period of time?

Let us pray for the courage and the perseverance to die before we die. To be men and women, as MLK challenged us, who are willing to make huge sacrifices for our relationship with God and our relationships with others. Doing so will make us fully alive, and will make us more fit for the life that follows Lent and the life that awaits us in eternity. 

Thomas Griffin is the chairperson of the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and two sons. He has a masters degree in theology and is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Empty Tomb Project: The Magazine.

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