Death & Dying

Christian Gratitude (posted on The Catholic Thing, to which I highly recommend you subscribe)
. WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2020

Some years ago, during a particularly dark and troubling time, an American Jew living abroad wrote to his Catholic friend in the States to commiserate: “Looking across the seas at my native land, I see that the barbarians have taken over everything. You are lucky: for you, despair is a sin.”

Between the resurgent COVID closings, the long-awaited-but-still-painful McCarrick Report, and the post-election fevers to which we are daily subjected, things have been a bit of a slog lately. I have thought to myself more than once that we Catholics really are lucky that despair is a sin. At times like this, a little perspective and a little humor go a long way.

The truth is that things have been a bit of a slog since round about the third chapter of Genesis, when our ancestral orchard thieves pilfered their way out of Eden and left the rest of us in the lurch. The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Such resignation in the face of a fallen world might not be despair, but it is a close cousin to it.

Sometimes humor can show us the line between resignation and despair. Pope John Paul II once managed to slam his fingers in a car door. Someone near to him heard him mumble under his breath: “Thank you, Lord, for loving me in this way.” That prayer has been one of my favorites since I first heard the story, not least because it is the only prayer I know that can be prayed, simultaneously, with equal measures of piety and sarcasm.

When Our Lord bestowed the blessing of a minor hardship upon St. Teresa of Avila (she fell in the mud), the Carmelite famously informed the Lord of the Universe, “If this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder You have so few!”

There is love in that sort of humorous rebuke. The bonds of friendship do not only permit such rebukes, within the bonds of friendship such barbs are a sign of true intimacy and even delight. It is a sign of a strong friendship when one can poke fun at the other and the result is the strengthening of the friendship rather than its dissolution.

Not everything is a big joke, of course. The world is in a bad way. The world is filled with suffering. There are more than enough reasons to feel betrayed and cynical and angry. Hope doesn’t grow on trees. And just like that, we’re back at Ecclesiastes again: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

The beginning of trust in the providence of God begins with the loss of our sense of control. In this sense, being resigned to the futility of human efforts in the face of the world’s difficulties is close to despair, but also the beginning of the way to hope. The realization that we are not in control, that we are not gods, is decisive. We should be grateful that we are not responsible for saving this broken and miserable world. If its salvation were up to us, the world would be utterly without hope.

As I say, it has been this way since the beginning – or just about the beginning. When Adam and Eve sinned, their punishment was suffering and toil and death. Their punishment was just. But the justice of their punishment was also a sign of God’s mercy.

Then the LORD God said: See! The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil! Now, what if he also reaches out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life, and eats of it and lives forever?

The LORD God therefore banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he had been taken.

Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden as just punishment for their sin, but also so that they would not remain in this fallen state forever. Death is the path God gives us to escape this vale of tears. Grace was there in the Garden, even at the Fall. Grace was there in Gethsemane and there on Calvary. God’s grace was not just present, but actively transforming the worst of the devil’s manipulations and the most heinous of our sins into the very means of our salvation. What is the line between resignation and despair, between abandoning our pride and losing hope? The dividing line is God’s own providence.

We will suffer. We will die. And because we know that the very worst calamities that could ever befall us are nothing less than opportunities for God to pour out his grace and mercy on the world: in all things God works for the good of those who love him.

I can think of no thought more comforting than that. I can think of no greater reason to be grateful. No greater reason to exclaim: “Thank you, Lord, for loving us in this way.”

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Did God Die on the Cross? How Can God Die?

by Steve Ray on April 10, 2020

Almost every day I get questions. I always try to answer, even if briefly. Today I received a question from Raymund in the Philippines. He is part of a apologetics group and they got very hung up on whether God died on the cross. Here is his e-mail:

JosephOfArimathea-5c2e4559c9e77c0001904cf9Greetings Mr. Stephen: 

I am a great follower of yours and I’m from the Philippines. I’ve got a couple of questions here that bother me a lot.

1) Did GOD THE SON died literally on the cross? or 2) Did only the HUMAN NATURE OF GOD THE SON  die on the cross?

I hope you can enlighten me on this matter.

My first response was brief, an attempt to get Raymund to think through it himself. I do this sometimes because some people prefer to just ask a question without giving it any thought or doing the research themselves. I wrote:

Let me ask you a question because it’s better for you to think through this on your own than for me to give you a pat answer. When you die, what dies? You are going to die and get buried in the ground, but are you dead?

Raymund wrote back:

You are putting more cobwebs in my brain….anyway, thanks. It has been an issue for us here (a little group of Catholics Faith Defenders, I’m new in this group). We were browsing the web found no definite answer. This issue has divided us.

  one of us says that GOD literally died on the cross for us to be saved.  AND THAT IS A MYSTERY OF OUR GOD IN CHRIST JESUS..

  the other is saying that it cannot be since GOD cannot die.  Jesus our Lord is both God and man.  What died? Some say IT IS A HERESY TO SAY THAT GOD DIED ON THE CROSS LITERALLY. For me, the latter seems a logical point of view.  GOD IS SPIRIT, ETERNAL, NO BEGINNING, AND NO END, therefore, cannot die. What died on the cross?

To sum it all, I’m sad for our group and at the same time, I’m confused.

So I responded further to Raymund and his group of Catholic Faith Defenders:

The reason I asked you about “when you die, what dies?” Is because it should help you think about what death is. Death is “separation.” It is the separation of the body from the soul. The soul goes to heaven or hell and the body is buried in the ground. Death does not mean annihilation, it means separation. When you die, you cease from your earthly existence, but you are still alive in your soul.

Jesus had two natures (human and divine) but he was only one “person.” He is a divine person (not a human person). He is God who has taken on human nature and therefore he is God and a man.

harrowingofhellJust like you, when this divine person of Jesus died on the cross it was a real death. But he was not annihilated or altogether dead. His body was buried in the tomb but he was soul and person was alive just like you will be alive in your soul when you die.

While his body lay in the tomb we are told that he ” he went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:18–19). He was still alive though his body was in the tomb. The person does not die, the body does and earthly existence ceases.

Catechism 630  “During Christ’s period in the tomb, his divine person continued to assume both his soul and his body, although they were separated from each other by death. For this reason, the dead Christ’s body “saw no corruption” (Acts 13:37).

Catechism 626  “Since the “Author of life” who was killed is the same “living one [who has] risen,” the divine person of the Son of God necessarily continued to possess his human soul and body, separated from each other by death: “By the fact that at Christ’s death his soul was separated from his flesh, his one person is not itself divided into two persons; for the human body and soul of Christ have existed in the same way from the beginning of his earthly existence, in the divine person of the Word; and in death, although separated from each other, both remained with one and the same person of the Word.”

So, Jesus taking on human flesh died just like we all die. But the divine person of Christ did not end or cease to exist. Jesus’ spirit/soul never stopped living just like your spirit/soul will still live after your body and soul are separated in death. Remember, death means separation, not annihilation.

I concluded with a bit of advice: Raymund, When you have questions like this I suggest you go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church which is the best theology book, the best commentary on Scripture and a superb guide for your spiritual life. It is easy to read and you can find answers to questions like this.

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Death, What a Wonderful Way to Explain It

by Steve Ray on September 28, 2019

Hope you enjoy this. I found it quite nice with a ring of truth to it. When it comes my turn to die, this will be my attitude.

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Bishops Among the Flames in Mexico

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Here in Mexico churches have 3 dimensional images of purgatory to scare people to holiness. Nearly every one has a bishop in the flames.

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Disappointed in Two Movies: “Shape of Water” and “Breathe”

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Forty Frozen Martyrs – we honor them today March 10

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In my talk Swimming Upstream I usually tell the story of 40 Roman soldiers who chose to freeze naked on a frozen lake in 320 AD rather than deny Jesus Christ. St. Basil, Doctor of the Church, told of the heroic martyrdom of 40 soldiers in a homily. They had been executed fifty years before […]

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