The Church…will receive Her perfection only in the glory of heaven, when will come the time of the renewal of all things. At that time, together with the human race, the universe itself, which is so closely related to man and which attains its destiny through him, will be perfectly re-established in Christ. (CCC #1042)
Humanity shares many ideas about death, some spiritual and some secular. In our current age, death has been rather poorly conceived in such tawdry definitions as “nothing is certain in life except death and taxes.” Common misconceptions or empty-headed fictionalized thoughts about death lead people in contemporary society down a path of fear and make-believe.
Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning and a depth of truth, leading us to the fullness of life. The Catechism teaches what is essentially new about what we, Christians, have been taught and what we believe about death, which is that sacramentally, through baptism, we have already “died with Christ” in order to live a new life. If we die in Christ’s grace, physical death completes this “dying with Christ” and completes our incorporation into Him and His redeeming act.
The great martyr St. Ignatius of Antioch, before being devoured by the lions of ancient Rome, affirmed in his teaching that:
“It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to reign over the ends of the earth. Him it is I seek—who died for us. Him it is whom I desire—who rose for us. I am on the point of giving birth—let me receive pure light; when I shall arrive there, then I shall be a man.” (CCC #1010)
In the current generation, we have a fear that borders on terror regarding death. Media, cinema and fiction novels have replaced serious thoughts and knowledge about the afterlife as it concerns the life of grace and our participation in the life of the Divine. The demonic, brutal sexual objectification of human men and women has displaced the life of grace. In these ways, death has become a tool of separation from God and, most especially, from His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Failing to learn about our Catholic Faith can increase our inability to think clearly about topics that help us live lives filled with positivity and genuine intelligence about being here in the first place.
Our ancestors in the Faith helped us to understand death by understanding life. The monks of the Middle Ages often used the axiom “memento mori” (remember death, or, you will die.) Some monks carried little shovels and used them each day to literally dig their own graves—thus reminding themselves of their own mortality.
What a difference we might see between those ancestors and ourselves. We somehow think we will live longer with chemicals and cosmetics.
Another thought comes to my mind from my Franciscan formation and seminary training. As a seminarian—and even to promote some healthy thinking—we were invited to compose our own (individual) obituaries. The first times we were invited to come up with such assignments, we really raised questions with our novice masters and seminary formators. Nonetheless, these ideas helped us think clearly about what we were doing daily to live more faithfully in preparation for heaven. Memento mori.
“At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.” (St. John of the Cross)
MOST REVEREND WILLIAM PATRICK CALLAHAN
Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse
Published in the November/December 2023 issue of Catholic Life Magazine