Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.


I see dead people

11-14-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

I see dead people. Lots of dead people. They are usually in coffins or urns sometimes in their beds. A frequent encounter with death always forces me to consider my own death and what comes next and by extension how I live the life I have. During this month of November we remember the holy souls who have gone on before us and it is also a time for us to consider those four last things: death, judgment, heaven, hell. But I have to say many of the things I notice at funerals and all that surrounds them gives me pause for concern.

Too often I see a variety of beliefs concerning death and the life after this life that are not in sync with Christian belief. To put it simply there are three major themes that seem to swirl around our culture even among Catholic Christians when it comes to death. The first is simply that death brings complete annihilation. There is nothing more after this life. That's a hard one to stomach and zaps any motivation for virtuous living. Thankfully that view is in the minority.

The second is that after death there is some sort of reincarnation. This is kind of a westernized version of Hindu belief. Somehow we get a second or third shot at trying to grab the brass ring. This belief can bring some consolation in that it tells us that we won't be annihilated but will live on even if it is a repeat performance. The problem with this, as we see in some Hindu societies that have a caste system, whatever your fate in life, it is actually based on a previous life. So if you suffer it is the result of a poor first attempt and the rest of us don't have to help you since your present troubles are of your own previous making and you will need to work through them to move higher up next time around.

The third version of death that is very popular is that once we die we sort of meld into the universe. I often hear this in odd poems that are sometimes read at funerals or burials. They go something like this: "you are not gone, just passed from view but I still see you in the sunset and feel you in the breeze"… and other mushy nonsense.

Christian belief is much more definitive. We believe that because Christ is risen from the dead we shall follow in the same way. This includes bodily resurrection: we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. I admit bodily resurrection is hard to wrap your head around until you picture Christ walking, talking, and eating with the Apostles after he rose from the dead. We shall be like him. As challenging as this belief is to comprehend it is at the same time the most hopeful.

This of course implies that as humans we are body and soul, a radical unity. If after death all we are is pure spirit then we will not be ourselves. What Christ promises is that we shall be like him and our physical bodies shall be transformed to be like his. Therefore we shall recognize one another and share in the intimate love of God all together.

From this we as Catholics believe that how we treat the body before and after death really matters. So while the Church permits cremation the proper interment of those remains is in keeping with our belief system that the body even in death is accorded respect and dignity since one day in a resurrected state we will re-inhabit that body.

Following from this is our concern of how we care for the dying. I am talking here about those difficult end of life decisions that are more and more required of us. There is a whole lot to be said about end of life care and death and burial and in January we will have some opportunities to look at these more in depth. But for now I encourage you to make sure you have written Medical Power of Attorney in which your requests for end of life care are spelled out. You can get a copy of one that is in keeping with Catholic Moral teaching and AZ law at the Diocese of Phoenix website: http://www.staphx.org/ethics_site/. I also encourage you to have written instructions for your funeral and burial.

St. Paul reminds us that if Christ be not risen from the dead we are the most pitiable of creatures. But since Christ is risen we should consider carefully what we believe and therefore how we live and how we die.

Love, Fr. John B.

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