Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, November 01, 2013

The Dead Are Not Gone

Today is the feast of All Saints (so if you're Catholic go ahead and have some meat on Friday but don't forget to go to mass as it's a holy day of obligation) when we celebrate all those (known and unknown) who are with God in heaven and tomorrow the feast of All Souls, when we pray for the dead, that those still being purged of sin in purgatory will soon achieve heaven. This touches a point about the Church which is too easily forgotten on most days in our modern world: we are still connected to the dead by the Church. Within the one Church, we have three groups:
  • The Church militant here on earth, fighting the good fight (Or running the good race if you hate military metaphors, but then, it's not called the Church Running)
  • The Church suffering -- those souls in Purgatory who are destined for eternal happiness and union with God but are in the process of burning away that attachment to sin, to self above God, which remains from life
  • And the Church Triumphant, unit with God in heaven
This isn't just some cute way of classifying people, it emphasizes that the Church spans death, and that through it we remain united with our loved ones who have died. People don't leave the Church through death and go on to heaven, like some graduation ceremony. (I suppose following that analogy, purgatory would be high school, which perhaps has some merit as an image.) Rather, the Church consists of the entire Body of Christ, living, suffering and united with Him in heaven, all at once.

The importance of this is easily forgotten in these times in which death is thought of as an aberration -- suitable for movies and the news and for the very old put safely away in hospitals, but not of concern to the young vibrant people who we all like to think we are. This is the society in which the human interest columns assure us that sixty is the new forty, and forty is the new thirty, and so on. But in fact, death is the one sure thing in life. Even more sure, pace the late Twain, than taxes -- though those are pretty sure as well.

When we're recently lost someone we love, we experience a sense of being cut off -- one which diminishes with time but never fully goes away. "I'll have to tell him about that," we think, and then remember. For several years after my father died, whenever I went to type an email into my work laptop, and started to type in an address beginning with J, the email client would suggest, "Jon Hodge"? I used to imagine typing up a long email to him and sending it off, explaining, asking, finding the comfort of communication again. I never did -- because while I always thought of it in terms of a story or movie in which a reply would somehow come to such an email to beyond this earth, I knew that in reality I would only get an error message.

We can't communicate with our loved ones who have died. But the desire to do so, I think, is not a mere habit from before or yearning for the impossible, but a sign that at some deeper level we understand we are not meant for separation but for union. We are meant for the Church Triumphant, into which God gathers all of us that will come. We are meant to be united with each other and with God in eternal communion.

Celebrate today our connection, through Christ and His Body the Church with those who have gone before us to the Father, with all the multitude of saints in heaven. And tomorrow, pray for our dead, that they may soon, or perhaps already be, among that joyous multitude which we hope one day to join.


bearing said...

Did you mean to include your surname in this post or was it an oversight?

(Feel free to delete this comment)

Darwin said...

It's showed up a few times in the past. My theory of anonymity is basically just that when people google me I want them to find my LinkedIn profile several pages before they're likely to stumble across my blog.

bearing said...

Oh, ok. I know I've accidentally left in names I didn't mean to from time to time on my blog.