The horrible tragedy which unfolded in London last night led me to think – as always – of the eternal destiny of the dead whilst the media focuse – as always – on easy emotions.
As I write this, we don't know how many dead we will count. Around 500 lived in the tower destroyed by the fire, but we now know the fire brigade rescued many in the initial phase of the fire and was able to get to the 20th (not only the 12th) of the 24 floors.
A tragedy of such dimensions took place in what appears to have been a “council house” (things aren't called they way they are anymore these days, so who knows), which I suppose (like many others) vastly over represented with heathens and atheist, but certainly also with many good Christians living behind those walls.
The latter (the Christians) certainly had it easier to manage a perfect contrition, and the Lord in His mercy may have saved them from the worse. But as to the others…
how many, who have lived in perfect godlessness, discover God when death approaches? How many, linked to the cruel, false religion of a child rapist in the middle of Europe, have been able to claim invincible ignorance after dying in their perverted cult?
The crude reality is that if you live like an atheist or an infidel you will probably die an atheist or infidel. No, there are no brownie points for an early death. Death is, actually, never one day earlier than God has decreed or allowed. What counts is the state of the soul at the moment of death, and no emotional reporting of the Buggers Broadcasting Communism will change a iota in that.
As always, let us use these shocking event for a sobering reminder: the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. When my hour strikes, will I be prepared?
Pray for the dead of the fire, and take care that these moment instil in you a stronger desire to be prepared at all times.
One of the most distinctive traits of Anglo-Saxon societies – seen with the eyes of a Southerner – is the obsession with strange events and experiences.
Not only marriages must be celebrated in the stupidest places – on the beach, on aeroplanes, on bungee-jumping bridges, and the like – but apparently nowadays even marriage proposals must be the apex of an “experience” travel, or of some extraordinary event.
Nothing is sacred anymore. But everything must be exciting.
I will be, for once in my life, blunt and tell you that I find this entire attitude very superficial, a rather childish escape from reality, and far from the very serious business of what was, once, supposed to be a commitment for life. Which is on par with the fact that all too often it just isn’t.
This superficiality and cheap escapism is best seen in modern funerals. They are, nowadays, often not even called such; are very heavily slanted on the “celebration” of the wonderful, unique, utterly breathtaking qualities of the departed and, in a word, witness the huge effort of modern man to remove the thought of death even when he smashes his face against it.
It seems to me that this very same mentality is slowly but surely extending to terminally ill people. You read more and more often of the most childish, superficial events staged for people who are dying; as if for a person who has only weeks left such events were, or had the right to be, of any meaningful importance.
If a person is, say, a fan of the “Iron Man” movies, a smartphone message from Christian Bale will not really give him any satisfaction if he is older than, say, eight and a half years; and probably not even then.
I will be very counter-cultural here, and say that the last weeks of one’s life are made by God for one purpose: prayer, and preparation to death.
If God gives me the great blessing – wait, let me repeat it in bold: great blessing – of some weeks or months of preparation before I kick the bucket I truly, truly want to hope that I will not waste them in the stupid pursuit of some earthly goal now without any sensible importance, but as investment in the future life, and with the utmost, most moved gratitude for being allowed to prepare carefully for the most important, – nay: the only important; nay, the only! – real task of my life: salvation.
It is not only that I hope I would do this because of the infinite prize at stake – the gaining of Purgatory -; but it is also that I am fully persuaded that to dedicate the last weeks, or months, to intense prayer would give me an interior serenity, a confident hope, and a robust and joyful expectation of my future life vastly surpassing every fulfilment of some more or less childish, and now certainly irrelevant, desire I might experience when it does not really make any sense anymore.
“I always wanted to get an autograph of Iron Man/Christian Bale before I die”, says the ill man, and does not understand that perhaps it’s time to leave all these things behind, and focus on more important things. But then some friend or relative will go on Facebook and mount one of those emotional frenzies until someone gets to Christian Bale’s number, or he is informed via social media. What can the man do, but to please the mob? There comes the autographed photo, duly scanned, and the very warm video message. Countless girlies start screaming in excitement. Everyone feels good. Everyone’s a winner. The chap will be dead in a matter of week, but: boy, isn’t this exciting; and aren’t we a bunch of wonderful people, frantically removing our fear of death….
“But Mundabor” – you might say – “one can have the autograph and pray the prayers!”
Yes, he can. But one must seriously wonder where his priorities lie, if even in dying he is so attached to what now are no more than child’s whims. Similarly, all those who get excited for such exercises must wonder what their real attitude towards death and judgment is, with my take being: superficiality, self-centred feel-goodism, or utter denial. Possibly, no faith in eternal life, too.
Make the last weeks of a dying person count. Stay with him for as long as you can, pray with him, talk to him about the Great Prize, cry with him tears of love and consolation, accompany him on these important steps to the all-important aim. If he does not believe, pray twice and – in charity and with prudence – encourage, instruct, warn him, find him a priest, and in case a calm, patient, resolute priest! If you ask me, this is the real “moral support”, not the latest child’s toy before he dies.
Reflect whether anyone of you can imagine one of those severe grandmothers of old who, on their death bed, expressed a desire to get an autographed photo of Humphrey Bogart, or a private screening of Casablanca!
They knew the time of earthly caprices was up, and it was now time to prepare to heaven.
Modern generations think rather of what expensive toy they might get, or what strange experience they might have, before they die.
If you like the wonderful British novelists of the XIX century (Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope & Co.), or even if you are a bit interested in the past, you’ll know already that in the past, premature death was – unfortunately – a much more frequent affair than it is today.
I do not bore you with the countless examples in said literature – suffices it to say, people could predict which people could make it to a ripe age, as a sickly child or weak teenager knew his chances were rather bad -, but you might be more familiar with some of the great of the past. Beethoven died aged 52, Chopin 39, Bizet 36, Mozart 35 and the great, great, great Franz Schubert 31.
It would seem, only two centuries ago death was everywhere. Birth (for women of course, and children), disease and war were constant dangers, and the premature farewell to this valley of tears an ever-present possibility.
No rosy and healthy young wife could tell you she wouldn’t be dead in less than 12 months’ time, whether of birth or disease. People knew it, and lived with it as with something both natural, and God-given. Again, we see it in the novels of the time – in their sum, certainly a very accurate portrait of the reality of the times – and this reality must have been full of uncertainties if even in the Sixties of the XIX Century – when the medical advancements had been plentiful – Trollope could put in his character’s thought the doubt that perfectly healthy people could live for long; with which he expressed what must have been generally felt as the ever-present possibility that even young and healthy people might be carried away in a short period of time.
Why do I say this to you? Because the Trollope book I am reading – boy, the chap was good! I am astonished he should be so comparatively underappreciated nowadays – reminded me of a trailer of a movie I never saw, in which Nicole Kidman performs a mother struggling to cope with the death of her own child and – it appeared from the trailer – becoming blasphemous in the process.
It stroke – and strikes – me as shocking what absence of historical perspective must be necessary to not even write, but even think such screenplays. Nowadays, life is a man-given right, and his end an unforgivable offence. This world is the centre of everything, and therefore the end of the life on this world as a little child not the promotion to an infinitely better one, but something to be grieved to the point of hating the One to Whom this life is due in the first place. The same belief in God is negated when one doubts the goodness of the God he still says to believe in. You can’t really believe in a cruel Christian God unless you are seriously, seriously disturbed. If you believe in the Christian God, you know He loves you. If you doubt this, you doubt His very existence, and make a cruel joke of Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection. If you blaspheme Him because of what you are supposed to know comes from Him, you make a fool of yourself.
We are extremely spoiled in this day and age. Thankfully, we enjoy unprecedented health and a life expectancy that would have been a dream only two generations ago. Sadly, this has gone together with a
. I do not blame the medical advancement of course, not do I think that better life conditions made people less religious – it being very obvious that some of the places with most comfortable life conditions are among the most religious -. What I think is that the shifting of the attention to the life below led to the loss of the very meaning of both the life below, and the one above.
I blame the mentality which infected the country from – say; at least as much as one can say such things – the Sixties, a mentality which encouraged people to think that their human condition here below – not their eternal destiny up above – is in the end what really counts.
Seriously, a society which makes of child death a reason to justify blasphemy – and I do not know whether this was the content of the film, of whether it ended with a more Christian message; but you could notice the trailer strongly leveraged on these feelings – is a society which must still learn to understand the first things about life and death. I compare the movie with the reaction of the presidential candidate Santorum to the death of his child, and see the difference between a Christian and a secular world; though I do not doubt for a moment the Santorums will carry their loss with them to their grave.
How spoiled we are. How misled by bad shepherds feeding us theological double-entendres meant to appease us whatever out thinking, and to dance around truth without ever touching it (how about this: “all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown.” You can immediately see the two ways in which it can be read. Ah, what masters of flattery the Conciliar Fathers were…..). Secularism polluted the entire Western world and instead of fighting it, the Church was polluted Herself.
We live longer and longer, but in our attitude to death we become more and more like little children who understand nothing and ask their parents in the hope of answers they will, if they are lucky enough to get them, not understand.
I read this on Mark Shea’s blog and thought I – and my readers – could well join in the prayers.
On a different note, I allow myself to notice the different outlook and attitude of the parents and relatives who know that their beloved child/nephew will soon be undoubtedly in Paradise – being baptised, and below 7 years of age – with the unbearable nothingness staring at atheists parents/relatives in the same situation.
“Soon she will return to her heavenly home”, says the grandfather of his niece; and whilst the most emotional amongst us can’t stop the one or the other tear, well, it is a very different tear from the one of the atheist.
My recent post about Medjugorje let me reflect about the vast amount of ignorance of basic Christian doctrine that might here and there – instead of the willed rejection of Christian teaching – be present. Whilst only the second would get one a first class seat on the Hell Express, it is necessary for every Christian to be informed of the most elementary truths of Christianity. Most of my readers already know this of course, but a couple of messages on my comment box (deleted, as the comment box on the Medjugorje post was closed) have persuaded me that at times it is better to state the obvious, so there we are.
1. There is no possibility of repentance after death.
“There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.” (CCC 393)
2. The judgment after death is immediate.
“The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith” (CCC 1021).
“Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven […] or immediate and everlasting damnation. (CCC 1022)”.
Besides this concept being a clear tenet of Christianity, and being clearly stated by the Catechism in several places, common sense tells us that it must be so. If we were allowed, as the alleged apparition in Medjugorje apparently states, to have a last shot at salvation after death the absurd consequences would be – to mention just the first ones coming to my mind – as follows:
1. confession would be devoid of every meaning or purpose in the economy of salvation: I’d just wait that I am asked after death.
2. the portals of evildoing would be open to everyone who believes in this tale: every wannabe Stalin would feel free to do whatever he pleases, just paying attention that he doesn’t do anything stupid when he is requested where he would like to reside.
3. the references of Jesus to a hell clearly surprising those who end up there would be devoid of every significance.
The idea that only those would merit hell, who would choose eternal suffering after death, willingly and just out of a great desire to be miserable in all eternity, is naive to the utmost. No Stalin or Hitler ever showed any desire to be miserable during life. Actually, they had a huge desire to be happy; it is only that this desire was ego-driven (and ego-gratification the way of their illusory quest for happiness) rather than tending to God.
It must be clear to everyone devoting two minutes to the matter that such fantasies make a mockery of Christianity and are only good to endanger the souls of those who believe in them; if someone tries to make you believe that the Christian God revealed to us is not merciful enough and that we now need to change our mind as to the way he acts, be sure that that person is doing the work of the devil.
Similarly – and also here, referring to a message I have received a propos Medjugorje -:
3.Private revelations can never change the truth of Christianity. In this case, the example made was from St Giovanni Bosco, who would apparently have had a vision of hell in which people are allowed to choose between heaven and hell after death. Firstly, this is not true as the dream (which you can read here; alas, sedevacantist site, but the text seems faithfully rendered) makes it perfectly clear that when one dies, the time is up. Secondly, a private revelation can never modify Christian tenets; on the contrary, it is the adherence to Christian tenets that is the conditio sine qua non of the private revelation’s credibility.
The dream of St Giovanni Bosco makes for a beautiful reading, and might be the subject of a separate post. But for today’s purposes I’ll leave the details aside.
Apologies to all those who don’t need to be told these elementary truths. Once again, I thought that – in consideration of both the stakes and the dismal situation of Catholic and Christian instruction – it would be better to, for once, state the obvious.
Jack Kevorkian has gone to his Creator or – much more probably, though we can’t know for certain – to Hell.
The National Catholic Register (which is the good “NCR” one) has an interesting article shedding some light into this very, very disquieting personality. The stated aim of the article is to avoid that Kevorkian be, after death, transformed in a kind of gentle soul, an atheist “Father Teresa” ooh so concerned with those who are suffering. Instead, it turns out that Kevorkian was not only in favour of suicide, but also displaying some (very predictable) Nazi traits in the following:
1) the strange (for anyone who is not a Nazi) concept of “obligatory assisted suicide”. This is very interesting. When someone has no choice whether to die or not (say: condemned prisoner), Kevorkian is in favour of forcing him to commit suicide. The man is truly excited at the idea of suicide, one must say. Besides the strange notion of forcing one to commit suicide who doesn’t want to (what sanction can you give to him in a Western country? Execution?), I note that this is, even, beyond Nazism. I mean, Hitler gave Rommel & Co. the choice whether they wanted to commit suicide or undergo public trial and, in theory, Sippenrache (the extermination of one’s family members), he didn’t force them to commit suicide, nor did he oblige them. Perhaps, is Sippenrache the key of how Kevorkian would have forced people to “obligatory suicide”? Questions, questions…..
2) the outlandish “optional assisted suicide”. This is the suicide of someone who really would want to commit suicide, but doesn’t have the gut to do it. Therefore, a sadist will do it for him without, in Kevorkian’s world, having to go to jail for that. Sadly for Kevorkian, in the real world he did have to go to jail for that. Nazis did that too if the person was ill or otherwise not really useful. They didn’t lack sadists, either. A world made for Jack Kevorkian….
3) then there is the concept of “suicide by proxy”. The thinking goes that in certain cases you must assume that the person, if he could express himself, would want to commit suicide; say, a gravely handicapped child. The decision is not taken by him, but by people who, so to speak, think for him (the parents, say). This is another thought that would move Hitler, Dr Goebbels and Dr Mengele to tears of joy, with the vision of all those children with malformations and their parents deciding that hey, he does not want to live, so let’s kill him now.
4) Going on along the Nazi path of this truly diabolical chap (as they say in Italy, “speaking as if he was alive”, of course) we have the desire of getting all the organs of the thus, how should I put it, ” forcibly suicided” people to make various medical experiments. In his own words, suicides should be, erm, executed within special suicide clinics that would
make the quantum leap of supplementing merciful killing with the enormously positive benefit of experimentation and organ donation
Note how good “quantum leap” sounds. You read these words and you know the man would have asked to be sent to Auschwitz, just to “mercifully” help people who, hey, would have to die anyway in the end, at the same time making a “quantum leap” in medical research…..
5) But don’t think Kevorkian would have admitted to enjoy killing. He paid attention to describe the act of killing as “distasteful”. Distasteful. A bit like squeezing a spot, I suppose. Instead, he pretended to see the main advantage of the exercise as follows:
What I find most satisfying is the prospect of making possible the performance of invaluable experiments or other beneficial medical acts under conditions that this first unpleasant step can help establish.
At this point, his identification with Auschwitz doctors has become complete. They too, certainly, experienced as “satisfying” to have so many organs with which to conduct “invaluable experiments” and “other beneficial medical acts”, whilst the fact that these people were dying was dismissed as something already decided elsewhere and that therefore didn’t have to concern them (though, no doubt, “unpleasant”); exactly the same as our nazi-hero happily experimenting with the condemned criminal.
This has made for depressing reading, I know. But depressing as it is, I think that it is right to delve at times into the cruelty of human nature; particularly when, as in this case, the monstrous nature of such people is disguised under the cloth of “humanitarian” thinking.
I am rather sure that it has happened to you too at some point: some friend or colleague or acquaintance of yours not only believes in reincarnation (perfectly possible, if he’s not a Christian), but sometimes even considers this compatible with Christianity; perhaps he even calls himself a Christian with utter conviction and in perfect good faith and will still say that he believes in reincarnation.
In such errors we must see another result of the disgraceful catechesis of these last decades; when such things happen I would invite you to be gracefully firm with the person in question and simply point out to the incompatibility of reincarnation with Christianity, and explain why. Sadly, though, we live in such times that new age infiltrations (or Buddhistic ones, or such like) are allowed to dilute the message of Christianity because no effort whatsoever is made by the Clergy to maintain the integrity of the Teaching. When the Archbishop of Westminster bows in front of an Hindu altar himself, how can you blame the generic (often lapsed; not always!) Christian for being confused themselves and for trying to reconcile apparent contradictions in a way that seems rational to them? When gatherings in Assisi-style take place and Buddhas are placed on Catholic altars, how can you blame laypeople for thinking they can “improve” on the received religious wisdom? This is when we, the orthodox and informed, come to the rescue.
First of all, let us agree some terms (which are used in various ways, and engender confusion) about what is meant with reincarnation. I have, up to now, met two families of thought that I will call: 1) metempsychosis and 2) reincarnation proper.
Metempsicosis is the idea that there is no individual soul, only a life energy. This life energy continuously reforms itself into new forms of actual life; but there is no continuity, no A dying and becoming B, then C and then D. You must imagine life force as a huge water reservoir, from which some water is taken when a human (or a dog, or an insect, or a tree) is born. When this form of life dies, the relevant life force comes back into the reservoir, mixing itself with the rest of the water; from this reservoir, some water will be taken away to create new trees, new insects, new humans etc. As there is no continuity of water (it is not the same molecules being used to create a new man after the death of the first, as the water mixes in the reservoir) there is no re-incarnation in the proper sense. No one is re-born, but rather a huge living force continuously takes new forms. This would explain why no one remembers former lives (there aren’t any, individually speaking) and why the same life energy of a man, once he is dead, comes into the great circle of life as, say, an insect. It is not that the man was re-born as an insect. Rather, the “water” of his life has been put into the big reservoir again, out of which further plants and insects and human beings are going to be born.
There can be no place for a biblical God in all this. There is a huge life force, whose occupation is to live through all living things and continuously mixing this living energies into new forms. This has been explained to me in extremely clear terms from a buddhist acquaintance who also was, as you can imagine, as atheist as Stalin. “Ice-cold!”, I said to him. “Wonderful!”, he answered. No merciful God, no hope of salvation in whatever form, no expectation of living as an individual. Instead, the participation in a huge machine continuously re-making itself, life as the vision of a huge living energy that lives in me, and will take other forms when I die; forms that are still expression of the same life, but not I in any recognisable form anymore.
Reincarnation proper is the idea that one starts life as a lowly life, say, an insect or an arachnids or even lower. Slowly, he evolves into higher forms of intelligence (say: cat, dog, horse) until he will finally be reincarnated as a human. The individual is always the same, taking new bodies. The higher he goes in the scala of intelligence, the more is he able to sin. When he becomes a human, he’ll start at the lower end of the scala (as a pariah, say) and then, in principle, gradually evolve. Unless he is a great sinner, in which case he’ll be punished with re-birth in a lower forms of human being: of a lower rank than his later reincarnation, or plagued by various troubles (say: sick; ugly; stupid; poor). The desire of God to see him evolve and come to Him fights with the creature’s inherent sinful tendencies a fight which goes on for possibly an immense number of incarnations, marked by “promotions” and “demotions”, until liberation is achieved and the soul is allowed to enter Heaven. In this conception, once one is born as a human he’ll always be born as a human (because when he is able to sin seriously, he must be able to pay serious consequences of his sin), but every life will bear the mark of the sins (or virtues) of preceding lives. Some will be born oh high caste, beautiful, witty and rich; other of low caste, ugly, dumb and poor, etc.
This conception is much more similar to the Christian one than metempsychosis and one understands why poor formed Christians (led to believe that Jesus just didn’t want to go into the matter, but this will be the subject of another entry) may find it credible. In this conception, a compassionate God works on our salvation but punishes us for our sins; his infinite justice lets us pay everything, but his infinite love leads, in the end, everyone to his heavenly destination. In this conception, not only purgatory but also hell take place here on Earth and even the most atrocious life conditions and individual destinies are but the reflection of God’s justice, working in him at the same time as God’s mercy assures to him, as to everyone else, eventual salvation. At the same time, the apparent inequalities are resolved in a cosmic justice, where everyone has at any one time what (good or bad) he has himself worked for.
This hindu and new age belief is much nearer to Western thinking than metempsychosis and it has, one must admit, the appeal of trying to explain some aspects of the human condition allegedly not explained by Christianity: eg, why some people are born with apparently cruel disadvantages compared to others; why life is a bunch of inequalities; how one can reconcile infinite mercy and infinite justice, etc. If you hear someone saying “if there is a God, why the earthquake in Haiti?” (rather fashionable among Christians, nowadays), it is rather probable that at some point he’ll subscribe to some new age tenet.
Of this two theories (I do not doubt that there are a lot of variations, I’d say these two represent the situation rather well, though) the first bears no resemblance whatever to Christianity and can be discarded as not dangerous. The second, though, is the most dangerous to Christian orthodoxy, as the superficial Christian may easily be led into finding here “answers” to apparent contradictions of life and thinking this, in the new Assisi-world, perfectly OK.
This article appeared on the “Anti-Catholic Atheist”, aka “The Independent”. It deals with the widely publicised decision of the Archbishop of Melbourne to ban pop songs from…. Catholic funerals. I repeat the key words again: pop songs, Catholic funerals.
I must admit that I was blissfully unaware of the following facts:
1) That there are people who really have the effrontery to play pop songs at a funeral.
2) That it is even necessary that an Archbishop puts an end to all this.
I obviously knew that there were people who consider a funeral a “celebration” of the life of the deceased, in an obvious protestantisation of Catholicism that ignores Purgatory and tries to remove Hell. But I thought it was meant purely symbolically, as the attitude with which the relatives of the deceased approach the Funeral Mass.
What I didn’t know is that such “celebrations” would include football club songs and the like. Football songs? In Church? At a funeral?
Apparently, it got really extreme in Australia as the most popular songs played at funerals were, according to Australian funeral directors: “Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”, AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”, the Monty Python ditty “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, and “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”, from The Wizard of Oz.” I hope that such songs were never allowed at least in Catholic funerals, but I am afraid to ask……
More amusing is the attitude of the local “Independent” Atheist In Charge, Mssss. Kathy Marks, who had to explain to his readers what sacredness is and failed miserably.
Mssss. Marks does reports the Archbishop’s statement, so that his readers have at least a hint of what it is about, but the good woman insists on finding a trendy Catholic priest and letting him tell how oh bad and oh insensitive this decision is.
Our trendy chap of choice, called Father Maguire and he thinks that the decision is
“a bit insensitive to local sensibilities, and a reversal of grassroots Catholic rituals”
I’d like to know what a “grassroot” Catholic ritual is. Perhaps someone can help. I thought rituals had to be reverent, and that was that. The idea of the “sensitivities” is also funny, as if the Church should let the faithful decide how to do a funeral. Fr Maguire even hints at disobedience, saying that
“he would have to struggle to balance the needs of mourners against the law laid down by the church”.
“Balance”? He has to obey, hasn’t he?
Not satisfied, our chap (obviously on a highway to Hell of his own) tells us that:
“Around 10 per cent of Catholics will feel more comfortable with these sanitised rituals, but the other 90 per cent want these rituals to reflect their lives.”
It is bad enough that an obviously secular journalist can think that it be “insensitive” not to allow people to sing pop songs in a church at a funeral, as you never know what these journos have smoked in their youth; but that a Catholic Priest would make an ass of himself to such an extent is truly a sign of the times.
Still, always look on the bright side of life: the action of the Archbishop shows that these monstrosities are slowly dying. The sooner, the better.
This is the continuation of the part one published yesterday. You can find the link here.
The first part has examined the following changes to the perception of death:
1) loss of the all-importance of death in the economy of salvation
2) loss of proper mourning
3) loss of modesty
Still, there are other aspects I do not want to leave unmentioned.
4) Loss of courage. Death has become something people do not want to see coming, or experience in the first place. They want to die in their sleep, or in some other very fast way. Most of all, they are terrified of becoming aware that they are dying. This is in striking contrast with Christian tradition. When people truly believed that death was the all-decisive moment, they wanted to be there with all their faculties and all their heart. They didn’t wish for sudden death, they asked to be freed from it! A subitanea et improvisa morte libera nos domine, goes the Litany of the saints as the idea of dying without proper preparation would have been simply terrifying to a Christian of the past. He was supposed to accept his own death, to willingly make a gift of his life to God who is the owner of it, to make sure he would receive death with a clear conscience, after receiving the sacraments, with eyes wide open so to speak. Romano Amerio reports that when King Louis XIII’s doctor saw his end approaching, his confessor woke him up so that he could be adequately prepared for death. The contrast with today’s practice of letting people die in their sleep is very marked. Of course, very saintly people can still legitimately claim that they wish a sudden death. Pope Pius XI was a point in case, but he wished a sudden death so that he could feel admonished to be completely ready for death in every moment of his life, which is a rather tall order for all but the best. This is not yours truly’s case nor, I dare say, the one of most of his readers.
5) Loss of honesty. Continuing on the theme seen under 1) (that salvation is considered more or less a given rather than an event we may hope for but never be sure of) the present custom seems to be that whoever has been baptised will receive a Christian funeral. This is a problematic praxis as the Christian funeral is supposed to be given only to the person of whom it may be at least supposed that he died as a Christian. To make just a couple of examples, avowed atheists and people who have committed suicide (particularly if the suicide has been carefully prepared, as in the frequent case of farewell letters), should receive no Christian funeral (and in the past did, in fact, not receive it).The fact that everyone might be saved cannot be changed in the assumption that everyone is saved. This is false charity which gives scandal on the one side and devalues Christian ceremonies (now demoted to mere social usages) on the other side. Incidentally, one notices all over the West (particularly in Italy, were the suicide rate used to be exemplarily low) an increase in suicides. This is not a surprise, as a priest who consents to celebrate a Christian funeral for a suicide demolishes the Christian taboo surrounding it. Further suicides are the obvious consequences but no one seems to care as “niceness” is preserved and everyone can feel oh so pious and inclusive.
6) Loss of tradition and symbolism. A Christian body is supposed to be buried. Whilst this is not a dogmatic point, burial makes a lot of sense. On the one hand, it is a way of following in Jesus’ footsteps, whose deposition and burial were extremely vivid in the faithful’s mind out of Gospel hearing, countless meditations, stations of the cross, rosaries and other devotions. On the other hand, burial entails a promise of resurrection, again following Christ’s resurrection after his own burial. The symbolism of burial would never have escaped a Christian of the past, because he would have been intimately connected with the richness of its meaning. But in a world which doesn’t meditate anymore on Christ’s burial, further considerations prevail. The ignorance about the works of mercy also doesn’t allow to consider that one of them is “to bury the dead”, not “to cremate the dead”.
I am sure one could find other aspects, but it is opportune to stop here. We see a clear trend: the loss of traditional thinking and devotional practice and the neglect of the proper understanding of doctrine have led not only to a dumbing down or outright neglect of practices like the funeral and the burial, but they have even caused a dumbing down of death and judgment as the all-important events of our life. When easy-to-swallow fake medicines are administered in the stead of true ones, we see the disease spreading.
It is high time to recover the proper meaning of death, judgment, funeral, and burial. It is not a matter of rituals, it is a matter of right understanding of the Truth.
After Vatican II there have been several changes in attitude toward death. They once again enlighten the superficiality and avoidance of the difficult concepts of the faith that are so typical of everything which has happened after that fateful Council. I say here on purpose that “Vatican II” changed the attitude because this change (strictly speaking never wanted or encouraged by Vatican II documents) was made possible by the unhealthy climate of “aggiornamento” created by V II in the first place.
Once again, let us remember that the changes were in attitude, not in doctrine. The Doctrine will never change, but the clergy in charge of transmitting it will do a good or bad (or very bad) job of it. A mediocre History teacher does not change History, but he will surely transmit his mediocrity to his pupils and as a result many of them are going to fail to pass the relevant exams.
I have identified six changes that I consider most significant: three of them are going to be dealt with today, the other three tomorrow.
1) Loss of death as the all-decisive moment. You will not often hear a priest saying that the last moment before death is the moment in which our eternal destiny is irrevocably decided. More probably, you will hear some easy-to-digest words about the transition from earthly to eternal life. The possibility of damnation is very often wilfully left aside. This is in striking contrast not only with Catholic doctrine (I mean here not that the priest doesn’t know Catholic doctrine; just that he considers inappropriate to say the whole truth about it) but with a long tradition of being reminded every day of the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. In his will not to upset the faithful (or rather: in his cowardice) the priest all too often skips the uncomfortable parts (that is: judgment and hell) and leaves only the convenient two: the transition from death to a heaven considered – bar genocide or the like – the obvious destination.
2) Loss of proper mourning. Death is supposed to be a moment of mourning for the relatives and friends of the death. They are supposed to stand in awe in front of the mystery of death, feel the sufferance of separation and use this sufferance to both reflect on their own caducity and be inspired to pray for the soul of the deceased. The trend, particularly in Anglo-Saxon (and therefore, vastly protestantised) Countries seems to be going in the contrary direction. The funeral is an occasion (here too, adopting a Protestant custom) to “celebrate the life” of the deceased. “Celebrate”? What is this? As the Ecclesiastes says there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance”” and death is the epitome of the time to weep and to mourn. To attempt to substitute mourning with “celebration” is, if you ask me, a clear indication of the removal of the fear of death so typical of our societies and of the lack of awe in front of death. Death is therefore treated just as a moment one tries to let pass as soon as possible with the least amount of discomfort, mentality further encouraged by the practical removal of the possibility of damnation examined above.
3) Loss of modesty. Apparently (I refer to Romano Amerio here) the fashion is spreading among Catholics to hold laudatory speeches of the deceased at the funeral mass. This is another custom taken from the Protestants and still another very questionable habit. The Church has never prescribed or even encouraged such a practice. The reason of that is, in my eyes, twofold: a) to stress that in front of death we are all equal: the rich and the poor, the obscure and the famed; b) to stress the abandonment of every vanity in front of death.
Panegyrics during a funeral mass smell of gratification of the family and friends of the deceased (that is: vanity) as the deceased (particularly if a person with a prestigious earthly station) is considered not in his quality of poor sinner, unworthy of the mercy of the Lord he still hopes to see extended to him, but in his earthly qualities. His social achievements will be extolled, the honours received acknowledged or failing that, the fact that he was such a good and worthy chap. Again, death is the moment in which we stop to consider that what we need is not earthly acknowledgment, but Divine mercy.
Tomorrow I will deal with the other three elements I have isolated: the loss of courage, the loss of honesty and the loss of proper tradition and symbolism.