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Friday, November 11, 2011

November, Part Four: Honoring Our Deceased Loved Ones And Reflecting On Our Own Death

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 The Fourth Part of a reflection to help our Academicians enter the Catholic spiritual perspective on living... and on dying.
Christ Leading the Patriarchs Into Paradise by Bartolomé Bermejo,  c.1480

What is it like to die?   What happens at the moment of death?
We must approach these questions with caution.  
When we try to deal with something completely beyond our experience, we can mislead ourselves!
So-called near-death experiences concern the interim state of existence between this life and the existence which lies beyond the moment of death!A lot of believers and non-believers are fascinated by the experience of the moment of death.  Medical researchers, in particular Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Dr. Raymond Moody, Dr. Michael B. Sabom, and Dr. Melvin Morse have interviewed a few hundred adults and children who were medically "dead":  People whose heartbeat and breathing had ceased, whose blood pressure had dropped to zero, whose muscular reflexes had stopped, and whose brainwave patterns registered as a flat response, indicating that the brain was not responding to ordinary stimuli.
These medically "dead" people were eventually revived and their normal responses restored before they suffered permanent brain damage.   These people never experienced true death -- they experienced near-death!  Please note:   Near-death is NOT real death!

Only eight people in history are qualified to speak about what it’s like to die — and to return from the dead:

  • In 1 Kings 17:22, the prophet Elijah raised the son of a widow at Zarephath from the dead. 
  • In 2 Kings 4:34-35, the prophet Elisha raised a Shunammite woman’s son from the dead. 
  • In 2 Kings 13:20-21, a dead man, whose body touched the bones of the prophet Elisha, rose from the dead. 
  • In John 11:1-45, Our Lord Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
  • In Luke 8:52-56, Our Lord Jesus raised from the dead the young daughter of Jairus, the synagogue leader.
  • In Luke 7:11-17, Our Lord Jesus raised a widow of Nain's only son from the dead.
  • In Acts 9:40-41, Saint Peter raised a woman named Tabitha from the dead. 
  • In Acts 20:9-20, Saint Paul raised a young man named Eutychus from the dead.
(Notice, Our Lord Jesus is not a part of the group of eight — because He died and rose from the dead in a new and totally glorified body, living a resurrected life, not a resuscitated life.)

Except for these eight people who were dead and were
resuscitated by God to continue their earthly lives and then die again,  no one else has returned from real death to resume his or her life again and tell others what awaits human beings in the next world.
Now, what are we to think about near-death experiences?  They are interesting!  For one thing, the near-death experiences of people who were declared  medically "dead"  are all strikingly similar.  These people's near-death experiences may help to motivate us in contemplating and preparing for the transition between this life and the next life.  To summarize the research findings concerning near-death experiences, we can say that there are six major phenomena:

  1. Many of the people surviving near-death experiences say they heard a ringing or buzzing sound.  They seem to enter a whirling cone or funnel, or a black tunnel.
  2. At the end of the tunnel, they encountered a brilliant light, a light they felt was benevolent towards them.  They experienced feelings of serenity and peace.  Many felt the light was a supernatural being.  Some Christians identified the light as an angel or as Jesus Christ.  Some Jews, as an angel.  Others, even agnostics, as the presence of the Divine, of God.
  3. Many found themselves in the company of deceased parents or friends.
  4. Quite a few experienced "out of body" experiences, wherein they were floating high above their bodies and the whole scene, able to see and hear the doctors, nurses, or bystanders as they tried to revive them.  After being revived, many were able to give startlingly accurate descriptions of who was there, what was said, and what was done.
  5. Still others experienced a review of their lives, a kind of rapid "instant replay" of significant and crucial episodes of their lives.  In any case, these "life reviews" led many of these people to recognize and admit mistakes and evils in their lives, eventually leading them to reform their attitudes and lifestyle.
  6. And, a lot of people having near-death experiences were reluctant to return to their bodies, but were encouraged and led back, to resume their lives with a new attitude. 

We must remember that people who reported these experiences did not truly die.  They survived a close brush with death and possibly a close brush with the afterlife, but they never crossed the threshold separating the this life and the afterlife. The shock of their bodily functions ceasing caused their consciousness to be altered, enabling them to have those experiences. But, all in all, their experiences were still experiences of life in this world -- they were never even close to the "great beyond" waiting at the other end of the passageway.  Scientists cannot measure, map, or videotape what awaits us in the mystery of the life to come.


But we can grapple with the mystery of this supernatural realm by using our intelligence enlightened by our Catholic Faith in what God has revealed to us through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

In Catholic theology, death is only a doorway to God and everlasting life.  Death was transformed into a passageway by Christ who, in becoming human, took on all the consequences of being human, including death, the result of sin.
The late Cardinal John Wright called death "the decisive moment" in every person's life because, at that moment, the end of our earthly pilgrimage comes and with it comes God's decision on our eternity.
The Last Judgement, by Hans Memling

At the moment of death, each one of us will have already decided whether we belong to Christ or not.

Once death comes, we can no longer act to change the overall, habitual direction in which we have been taking our life.  

Each one of us will receive our recompense, Saint Paul tells us, "according to his or her life in the body."  

Before death, we are changeable creatures -- growing, aging, developing.

But with death, a spiritual and physical transition take place that are unchangeable.

  • If a person dies in hatred toward God, that hatred will continue throughout all eternity.
  • If one dies in friendship with God, that friendship continues, immutable.
There is an old spiritual axiom: "As you live, so shall you die."

To Be Continued...

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Men of The Catholic Jedi Academy are also Men Of Saint Joseph!
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