Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The Lie of Death

I hope that in my previous post, I made clear something that I believe about the passage from this life to the next: I believe in a form of Purgatory, but not really one that might be understood by Roman Doctrine. It's not a definition that I can pin down at all: Death is still a mystery to everyone except the departed, and any statements about what may happen afterwards must be questions of faith. One can understand how it can be a source of controversy both within Christianity and without.

Today is All Souls' Day in which we set time aside to pray for the dead. The Benedictine Offices are those of the Dead; Glorias are omitted; and everything concentrates on the words of Holy Scripture about this mystery. The first Nocturn consists of the words of Job, lamenting the frailty of this life and the certainty of death. The second Nocturn consists of words of St Augustine of Hippo on the fitness of praying for the dead. The third Nocturn comes from St Paul who describes the futility of being Christian if there is no resurrection from the dead.

For us who are still alive, the Mystery of Death only has the certainty of bereavement, the nature of mourning, the horror of decay. In a secular world, Death is something to run away from, to stave off as long as possible. We seek anti-aging creams and cosmetic surgery; we try to prop up that which sags, medicate to prolong life, replace faulty parts with varying degrees of success. In the UK, the old are hidden away from society in homes which do not always give them the care that they need. Death is the subject of many horror films (indeed Death is the central villain in the Final Destination series) and the fear of a life cut short affects many of us.

The Exixtentialist can only focus on the now and the absurdity of a life that will end while trying to create her own meaning of life. Such a meaning can only be arbitrary and solipsist: there is no objective meaning, no objective good and thus no good at all. In an existentialist reality, Adolph Hitler is no more or less moral than the Dalai Lama or David Cameron. All it takes is for one person to say that Hitler had sound morals and that opinion is just as valid as the one who says that Hitler was a moral monster. One subscribes to one's own moral code, but it is no more or less valid than another's. If this life is all there is, then this is all we have. Death renders all opinions irrelevant.

One thing that many people don't quite get right is the notion of the soul. Too many people go to Aristotle, or to Plato to think that a soul is independent of our physical body. We still say "body and soul" as if to render them as antitheses. The writer I will call Pseudo-C.S. Lewis put it nicely when he said, "You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." The Greek word psuche when we get psychology and psychic is being used to translate the Hebrew nephesh which really means life. Even then, when we think of life we think of the period in which we are not dead. Yet, we can still say things about dead people and refer back to their lives. We can think of the Adolph Hitler and C.S. Lewis and imagine what they would be saying or doing. While we can still do that of fictional characters, people who have existed still possess some life even after they are dead. This life comes mainly from the vivid memories that the have left behind.

The soul is more than our life on this planet. Our soul is immortal because we exist in the mind of God and God is Eternal. Our death is the end of our physical life, yet our existence is still there in Time: we just don't have the means to go back and observe it. Our Soul is us independent of Time.

This is why we should fear the second Death, for this is the Death of the Soul. It is the cutting off of of the soul from the Life given by God. It is a petrifying of existence in the Hell of our own making, stuck in the darkness perpetually able to see those in the freedom of life with God and yet unable to interact; cold from being frozen into inactivity, yet burning with hunger to exist but on one's own terms. The Second Death is both a lake of ice and fire.

Our souls pass from this world, but although we may not live and breathe, there is still a thing called "us". If Our Lord is to be believed, then this life just isn't life - it is only a half life. My soul is the totality of my life. I mentioned yesterday the Saints being pulled out from Time into Eternity. This new life is the soul: it exists timelessly and, through the Incarnation of Our Lord, in the glorious presence of God.

The Lie of Death is that it is the literal end-all of our existence. Too often, we live life as if death were the end. This is how Hitler believed he could escape judgment, by ending his life. Likewise, Judas.

Prayer for the dead then becomes an affirmation of the continued existence of life after the death of the body. No, we cannot be complete without the body, for we are indeed corporeal beings. Nor should we be afraid of the notion that our minds are linked with our brains. Our God holds our souls precious in His sight. The ministry of the Lord is clear: we are to be moral beings not for the good of society, but rather to fit us for Heaven. Our morality ultimately benefits our society, but that's not why we should be moral: we are to be moral because God is. Any human being can be good, but many are good in order to benefit from a mortal society which will look after them if they contribute. The Christian is called to be Good to be like God, for God is Love and we are to Love Him with all our soul and our neighbours as ourselves.

In praying for the dead, we do something scandalous. We are saying that we don't belong in a society which, though potentially good, will end in Death. We are declaring that we are still in solidarity with the dead, that we still care, and love them, that they are part of our greater society long after their bones have turned to dust and blown away to oblivion. We are declaring that what many perceive as Death is a release into the Freedom of Eternity of God. This means renunciation of sin, the world, the Devil, and the Lie that Death is the end.

I offered the Sacrifice of the Mass today for each and every soul, particularly remembering the souls of those dear to me and dear to my parish. I felt an intense sense of oneness with them, knowing that they are "out there, somewhere". I pray for them at their Purgatory and stand with them. I trust that they will do the same for me. We are in this together: even Death will not part us. May we all find that wonderful life beyond this existence in Our Lord and Saviour.

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