“Whoever seeks to save his life shall lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake shall save it”.
Continuing with our reflections on Saints Isaac Jogues, Jean de Brebeuf, and their companion martyrs, from Mass this morning, I wish to share with you a story entitled Haydn and the Oyster, from Robert Crisp’s take on the philosopher John Stuart Mill’s theory of “Utilitarianism”:
"You are a soul in heaven waiting to be allocated a life on Earth. It is late Friday afternoon, and you watch anxiously as the supply of available lives dwindles. When your turn comes, the angel in charge offers you a choice between two lives, that of the composer Joseph Haydn and that of an oyster. Besides composing some wonderful music and influencing the evolution of the symphony, Haydn will meet with success and honor in his own lifetime, be cheerful and popular, travel and gain much enjoyment from field sports. The oyster's life is far less exciting. Though this is rather a sophisticated oyster, its life will consist only of mild pleasure, rather like that experienced by humans when floating very drunk in a warm bath. When you request the life of Haydn, the angel sighs, ‘I'll never get rid of this oyster life. It's been hanging around for ages. Look, I'll offer you a special deal. Haydn will die at a young age. But I'll make the oyster life as long as you like...’"
Which would we choose, a short life lived to the full, “on knife’s edge” as some would put it, a life lived in total commitment and absolute surrender to a God who does not promise comfort, ease, or easy glory; but whose promise consists only in his never-ending presence to us. Or shall we choose the life of an oyster, a long—perhaps an extremely long life—of boredom, with no risks, no commitments, no pain, no danger, no sacrifice, but also no hope of true and final victory?
There are three types of persons in this world: those who run, those who watch, and the risk-takers who willingly commit.
Runners are those who, fearing they’ll get hurt, do their best to flee anything uncomfortable, whose sole purpose in life is to not feel any suffering or pain; they run away as soon as a difficult challenge that requires sacrifice shows itself.
Watchers are those who prefer to sit on the fence, to sit on the sidelines rather than join and immerse themselves fully in the game of life, fearing that doing so would open themselves to the possibility of getting hurt. Like runners, they too seek only comfort and security.
The third type, those who commit, are like the martyrs whose feast we celebrate today. They know they can get hurt, they know they’re risking much, perhaps even their life, they know they may not in fact, succeed, and they know they will have to sacrifice much and perhaps suffer much.
Runners and watchers will most likely never experience pain or suffering, not like those who commit. But neither will they know the joy and the exhilaration of succeeding, of being truly victorious, and of knowing that they had experienced what life truly means. Those who commit, unlike those who run and those who watch, may in fact get hurt, they may even lose their lives, but in their sacrifice and in their loss, they gain true life even more, the kind that only God can give.
“Whoever seeks to save his life shall lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake shall save it”
God gave us life to spend and not to keep. If we live too cautiously, always thinking first of our own profit, ease, comfort, security, if our sole aim is to make life as long and as trouble-free as possible, if we will make no effort except for ourselves, we are losing life all the time. But if we spend life for others, if we forget health and time and wealth and comfort in our desire to do something for Jesus and for the men and women for whom Jesus died, we are winning life all the time.
Imagine what would have happened to life if everyone had wished for nothing but to remain comfortably at home, and there had been no such person as an explorer or a pioneer. What would happen if every mother refused to take the risk of bearing a child? What would happen if all people spent all they had upon themselves? What an awful world this would be if no one ever took a risk to make it better.
The very essence of life is in risking life and spending life, not in saving it and hoarding it. True, it is the way of weariness, of exhaustion, of giving to the uttermost - but it is better any day to burn out than to rust out, for that is the way to happiness and the only true way to God.
And so I leave you with this question: Which one am I? Am I a runner, a watcher, or a risk-taker - one who chooses to fully commit?