|Into The Void...|
Every November, Catholics have traditionally honored their deceased loved ones by having Holy Mass offered for them, by visiting the gravesite of our loved ones, and by personally contemplating the mysterious reality of ... death. The ancient Latin phrase is recalled by the Living during November: Memento mori -- "Remember you will die."
Here is Part One of a reflection to help our Academicians enter the Catholic spiritual perspective on living... and on dying:
St. Augustine said in one of his sermons, “Listen to the relatives and friends at a Baptism, speculating about the future of this baby: ‘Will he be famous? Perhaps so, perhaps not. Will he be happy? Perhaps so, perhaps not. Will his life be long and healthy? Perhaps so, perhaps not.’ But no one ever says, ‘Will he ever DIE? Perhaps so, perhaps not.’”
The old axiom, "All people are mortal" does not tell you what death is. Rather:
"The ones I love are mortal" does.
“My husband is dead” does.
“My friend is dead” does.
“My parents are dead” does.
Love brings the truth of our own mortality home to us, where it belongs.
It's amazing how easily we forget our mortality. How could we forget death? It is life's one certainty! How has our society managed to dismiss death? What means have we discovered to continuously disregard death?
My analysis is, that our society has learned to disregard death through the influence of five prevalent views or philosophies of the nature of reality: Skepticism, Relativism, Secularism, and Consumerism and it's consort Sensualism.
Skepticism is an attitude and philosophy of doubt or unbelief with regard to religion.
Secularism is a social and political philosophy that rejects all forms of religious faith.
Relativism is a philosophy that asserts that all criteria for judging good and evil are relative, varying with each individual, each culture, each social system, or each political environment.
Consumerism is a philosophy that promotes a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods, because of the belief that the increasing production, distribution, and consumption of goods is economically and socially desirable.
Sensualism or Sensationalism, is a form of hedonism that emphasizes the pleasures of the senses or of the body as opposed to the pleasures or activities of the mind.
As Catholics, we contradict these views as untrue and dangerously misleading distortions of the reality that we human beings experience. To secularize death, to separate it from religious or spiritual connections, as our culture is now doing, is a blasphemy for Catholics.
Saint Francis of Assisi called death, with astonishing affection, "Sister Death." She is an enemy -- our Last Enemy. Yet, through our Catholic Faith in the Resurrection, death becomes our sister, our friend and our teacher -- if we are honest enough to seek the truth. Unfortunately, a lot of people are not seeking the truth these days.
And the simple truth is:
Death is our one certainty in this age of skepticism.
Death is our one absolute in this age of relativism.
Death is our one inescapable brush with other-worldliness in this age of secular this-worldliness.
In our society, we try to disguise death, to mask it, and pretend that it doesn't really happen. We say that someone has "passed away." Or we have "another victim of street crime." Traffic on the highway is tied up due to "a fatal collision." The pre-born child violently aborted from its mother's womb is "a procedure scheduled for next Wednesday" or "gynecological tissue which has to be removed."
We tend to avoid discussing death and the afterlife. These topics make us uncomfortable. We find them unpleasant and threatening. The fact is, that few of us are at peace with the inevitability of death. It creates an uneasiness in us, because:
Death means leaving behind values we have chosen.
Death destroys one's status as rich or famous.
Death seems to end the relationships we cherish.
Death wipes out the pleasures of this world. (As one elderly lady put it to me, "After I die, I don't know what I will do without television.")
As post-World War Two western society entered the age of amazing technological achievements, the philosopher, Aldous Huxley who, in 1938 became a Vedantist (a follower of the mystical branch of Hinduism) wrote in his 1946 book, The Perennial Philosophy, "... cleverness becomes the enemy, a source of spiritual blindness, moral evil and social disaster. At no period in history has cleverness been so highly valued or, in certain directions, so widely and efficiently trained as at the present time. And at no time have intellectual vision and spirituality been less esteemed, or the End to which they are proximate means less widely and less earnestly sought for. Because technology advances, we fancy that we are making corresponding progress all along the line; because we have considerable power over inanimate nature, we are convinced that we are the self-sufficient masters of our fate and captains of our souls; and because cleverness has given us technology and power, we believe, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that we have only to go on being yet cleverer in a yet more systematic way to achieve social order, international peace and personal happiness."
In 1950, Huxley also wrote in Themes And Variations, "A belief in hell and the knowledge that every ambition is doomed to frustration at the hands of a skeleton have never prevented the majority of human beings from behaving as though death were no more than an unfounded rumour... ."
Huxley acerbically echoes our Catholic sensibility which holds that death forces us to admit that we are not "masters of our fate and captains of our souls."
To Be Continued …