Dr. IRENE MARINOFF, whose spiritual articles have attracted the special attention of our readers, chooses the beginning of November, the month of the Holy Souls, to give us a
THE extent of the Christian vic tory over the world and its evils is only fully realized, when we consider the Christian attitude to death. Not only does the Faith raise life to a supernatural level. giving it eternal significance, and hallowing its everyday tasks, it
reveals life's most dreaded threat, suffering, as the source of untold blessings, and meets its final terror with the calm assurance of irrevocable victory. The central truth of Christianity. tho redemptive power of Love, is expressed by the Man dying on the cross, while the possibilities of life, which it offers, reveals a completely new aspect of death.
The fear of death dates from the Fall, when Adam was deprived of the inestimable privilege of immortality. On that day the whole character of life was changed. Love, happiness and beauty were rendered po!gnant by the certainty of their transitoriness. Moreover, man was constantly haunted by the fear of death. For by sin death came into the world. The certainty of death combined with the uncertainty of its coming became a source of perpetual disturbance. Consequently men turned with increased insistence to life and its pleasures, avoiding the thought of death. or considering it an inevitable hero or philosopher. Even the Jews of the Old Testament considered a long life a signal blessing, and for all their occasional pessimism, the Greeks shared this belief. It is of profound significance that in the Odyssey the shade of Achilles, when questioned by Ulysses, declared that the life of a simple labourer on earth was preferable to a crown in the Underworld.
Joy of Dying—a Christian
Gift itt spite of the high value they attached to life itself, these men of the antique world were no cowards when faced with death. The Platonic Socrates drinks the hemlock with the calm born of a life-long pursuit of truth. The Roman of the early period certainly preferred death to dishonour. Antiquity could teach men to die with dignity.
Bat the joy in dying. so glorious a privilege of the martyrs, was a gift of Christianity.
This joyous giving of life was not due to a morbid devaluation of all it had to offer. Of its nature. Christianity cannot be a religion of pessimism. seeing that God Himself pronounced His approval of creation. Christ emphasises the value of life in the words, "Greater love hath no man than he who layeth down his life for his friends." In spite of the present disfigurement of life, which might lead many to underestimate its value, this truth remains. Life is a good thing. However, it does not follow that death is an evil. For such is the paradox of the Faith that only he who is prepared to sacrifice his life, can appreciate it in all its fullness.
For the Christian the value of life lies in the fact that it is a gift of God, granted for a special purpose, and to be withdrawn when, in His inscrutable Providence, He so disposes. In his fallen state man cannot fulfil this purpose in its entirety during this earthly life. It may be possible, and indeed it is our task in this world, to know, love and serve God. However, this will always be impure love, limited knowledge and, except in the case of the saints, imperfect service. Their perfec
firm will only be granted in the beatific vision, to which the portal is death.
Death is a Beginning Seen in this light, death is revealed not as an end but as a beginning. the entrance 40 that eternity which. by the grace of God, we have merited during OUP sojourn on earth.
Not without reason does the Church celebrate as the birthday of the saints, not the day of their entry into this world, but the day of their death. The same is true of our death, though the majority will have to pass through a period of purgation before they can enter heaven.
In reality, death is the perfection of the Christian life, rightly lived. This consists in a perpetual mortification, that dying to self, and detachment from the things of this world, which is so essential a part of the spiritual life. Hero again, this is no morbid, thinlipped denial of beauty and happiness. no grudging service to an exacting deity, but the joyous surrender of the less for the sake of the greater. the exchange of a narrow, self-centred existence for the abundance of the Ch ristli re.
The Church calls us again and again to ponder these things. Every Hail Mary, easily the simplest and most frequently-voiced of prayers, contains a reminder of our eternal destiny. " Prey for us now, and at the hour of our death," that we may be made worthy to approach the courts of heaven. In those last moments, when the soul is separated from the body, the graces of perseverance or conversion, offered in such profusion, arc either accepted or rejected, Thue the final decision falls.
Those who have been privileged to witness the gradual perleahtg of .a soul during a last illness, the purging 01 faults. the chiselling of the character, till the great lines shine forth with almost supernatural clarity, know that death Is only the end of a process, which has continued throughout life. the sanctification of the soul in preparation for its eternal rentrd. Death loses its terror in proportion as life was lived in readiness for the We to come. life. Not only does it teach us to attribute to the things of this world their true value, it helps us to perform our daily tasks with greater perfection. It is a searching question to ask ourselves frequently, '' Will the action I ma contemplating stand the test of death'?" For before that last tribunal everything impure stands condemned, and there only remain Pod in His infinite mercy and the sinner who, by virtue of Divine Grace alone, was allowed to merit.
Death is deprived of its terror, when, through habitual mortification and the frequent consideration of the Four Last Things, tho supernatural life in the soul is strengthened. Moreover, such is the consolation offered by the Faith, there is solace even for the sorrow of bereavement. For the non-Christian, who does itot believe in the immortality of the soul, death means a final parting, and the pain of loss remains unrelieved. The Catholic, however. is assured of an unbroken relationship with his departed ones in the Communion of Saints. He knows that the, souls in Purgatory or in heaven are parts of the Church to which he belongs. He is united to them by the same bonds, which join him to the members of the Church Militant. That mutual love, which on earth found its expression in intercessory prayer and sacrifice, can still perform these same acts, and with effect. The Holy Souls can pray for us, and we are bound in charity to pray for them, and do penance, too. We can offer up Mass and Communion for their benefit, as we did during their lifetime.
The month or November, set aside especially by the Church for so good an intention, should rouse us to greater sacrifice and strengthen the bond of love in our hearts. It is true, our relationship with the members of the Church Triumphant assumes a different character, petition and praise taking the place of intercession on our side. But the flow of love remains unchecked.
In a certain sense, the souls who have already crossed the threshold of death, are nearer to us than they were during their lifetime. It has been said that death unites us more closely, because it is life that sometimes bolds us at arm's length and sets up misunderstandings. The victory of Christianity over death is indeed complete. It is for us to rejoice and be thankful that it has been won for us by Eternal Love.•