All posts tagged: death

The Church Has a Morbid Streak

I was in my mid-twenties when my father handed me his 1929 edition of Sigrid Undset’s Nobel Prize-winning trilogy, Kristen Lavransdatter, and said, “I think you’ll really like this.” This is typically how my dad makes his book recommendations. He puts a story in your hands and says, “I think you’ll really like this.” It took a few years and a couple of starts and stops to get through this massive historical novel set in medieval Catholic Norway. The tome sat at the bottom of a stack for while, but in the end, I fell in love with Kristin Lavransdatter, which I have often described as not unlike Augustine’s Confessions if the Confessions were written in third person feminine voice and set in medieval Scandinavia. Sigrid Undset became one of my favorite authors because her writing reveals that rare perception of the pain and beauty of St. Paul’s words in the Letter to the Romans: “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” Without affect, sentimentality, or illusion her writing expresses the realities of the …

Life After Life After Death

What a way to go! At some point most of us will say it, and when speaking of death usually mean some preferred, or else dreaded, scenario—drowning in a pool of chocolate say, as compared to being drawn and quartered. According to a new Canadian poll though, we are not exactly exhausting ourselves plumbing the metaphysics of the exit. In general, going, happens in one of three ways: Instantaneous, a catastrophic high-impact injury, for example, or a bullet to a so-called kill-zone; Sudden, as when an event results in death moments or hours later, and Delayed.  About this third, we could be glib and say that the leading cause of death is life, but I am talking here about terminal illness, both protracted and brief. I do not think I would be good at any of them, and am in no rush to find out. Unfortunately, over the past year, seven friends have. All “folded their tents early,” and since none lived in a global hot spot, seven seems a startling number. If there was …

Beauty from the Brokenness

As the flickering candles and dim lights fought off the dark Texan night pouring in from outside, the chapel danced between silence and sound. The silence was palpable—as thick as the bonds of the seventy young men huddled attentively as they leaned forward to listen to their fellow senior standing behind the ambo. He began to break open his life, allowing others to listen to the symphony of his rugged voice: crescendos of moments we never expected, slurred words in between tears fought back, staccatos of the surprising levity, and pauses to gather his soul to spoken notes—his young life sung to the tune of the Paschal Mystery. I remember my astonished gaze ascending upwards from the student’s face, aglow with fire light in the dark, towards the gnarled figure of Christ on the suspended crucifix. . . Crucifixion—Why? I found myself in the chapel before the whirlwind events of yet another retreat, drawn to the silent gaze of that same crucifix. Memories flooded the silence and past retreat experiences reverberated into this crossroad in …

Dying to Christ

“In that day, says the LORD, courage shall fail both king and princes; the priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD, surely thou hast utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, `It shall be well with you’; whereas the sword has reached their very life.” My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Disaster follows hard on disaster, the whole land is laid waste. Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment. How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? “For my people are foolish, they know me not; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but how to do good they know not.” I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I …

Priests gathered around the altar at the funeral of Cardinal Francis George

Burial of the Dead: Opportunities and Challenges

 The month of November and the recent conclusion of the Year of Mercy provide a fitting time to reflect on the least-glamorized corporal work of mercy: burial of the dead. Our American culture goes out of its way to sanitize and ignore the reality of death, so we tend to come face-to-face with mortality only if a close relative or friend is dying, or when attending a funeral. Yet death is truly ubiquitous, whether or not we chance upon a funeral motorcade crossing city streets. And we Christians must properly appreciate death as a necessary transition from this life to the next. The Church’s funeral rites offer many beautiful ways for mourners to engage in the process between death and burial. While most of us are acquainted with the wake, the funeral liturgy itself, and the committal at the place of entombment, there are other, more unfamiliar practices that the faithful should be aware of. Participating in Burial Preparation The Order of Christian Funerals exhorts that “the family and friends of the deceased should not …

The Witness of the Martyrs

Laden with highly-charged connotations, “martyr” is one of the most rhetorically and politically loaded words in the English language. Often, for us, “martyr” conjures up images of stubborn ideologues who refuse to be badgered into backing down, or sufferers of avoidable ills in the name of self-righteousness. Often, Catholics imagine specifically early Christian martyrs as put-upon Catacomb Christians sticking to their guns in the face of a government that was determined to beat their convictions out of them. This anachronistic imaging of the early Christian martyrs is influenced by the state-driven religious persecutions of the Reformation. I would like to suggest an alternate imaging of the early martyrs. But first, a quick etymological detour: the word “martyr” did not appear in Latin until it was first used in the first century AD. The Latin word evolved specifically to describe the phenomenon of groups of early Christians, who were, for whatever strange and shocking reason, giving themselves up to death at the hands of the Romans. The word “martyr” is a response to a specific event, …

Tales from the Crypt

I spent Easter in a cemetery. No, I wasn’t exactly visiting the graves of my blood relatives. Nor was I trying to get a part in an episode of CSI. I was at Mass—the Easter Vigil to be exact. Out in the far right corner of the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama is a town called Holy Trinity. There, a little Catholic community founded by the Trinitarian order has a parish church. The Trinitarians also have three cemeteries on their grounds—one for the sisters, one for the priests and brothers, and the one for the public. On Holy Saturday night, I found myself, along with 40 parishioners, there in the public cemetery, standing somewhere between the living and the dead. I’d like to tell you about some of the people buried there as well as how we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus in their midst on that night. Here lies Leon Domingo—a 23-year-old African American from Jersey City, a former soldier. He rests here after being falsely accused of raping and murdering a White girl in …

The Long Sunrise of Easter

Brothers and sisters, are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We indeed were buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think …