*Since this article was written, Sean’s grandfather has passed.  Please pause and pray for his soul.

Today I had what may very well have been my last conversation with my beloved “Grampa.”  He is 90 years old, in the advanced stages of cancer, and has declined extremely rapidly in the course of just a few weeks.  The doctors say it’s a matter of just days until he passes.  After his passing, many folks will shower myself and my family with their condolences—all of which we will appreciate.  However, I suspect that some folk’s expressions of sympathy will point to a misunderstanding of the real gravity of death.

This is truly a shame, because if there is one thing about which we should have no illusions, it is death.  We mustn’t make any mistake: death is the most feared of all human experiences for a reason.  To put it bluntly, death is the greatest of all natural evils, and the Devil rejoices in it.  There is nothing pretty about death, and we shouldn’t pretend there is.

So, as much as I’ll appreciate their well-intentioned expressions of sympathy, I won’t be trying to just pucker up and smile as our culture of death would have me do.  The proper responses to death are grief and sorrow.  Most of us would (appropriately) experience similar emotions if our home burnt down.  We wouldn’t jump immediately to a “celebration of life” for our lost home—though later we might recall the fond memories of our experiences there.  But we would first take time, if you will, to “grieve.”  How much more should we do so when we have lost a loved one?

My reflections here, I’ll admit, seem rather hopeless.  In fact, though, I think they point to the truth of the reality of Christian hope.  The phenomenon of attempting not to grieve over death, on the other hand—while seeming hopeful on the surface—points, I think, to a great fear of death which flees from the pain of facing it as it ought to be faced.  But the Christian, by entering in to sorrow and grief, by looking death square in the face and acknowledging it for what it is, evidences his courage in the face of such things and his hope that he will one day be delivered from them, forever.  He does not, however, just pretend that they don’t exist now.  He proclaims, with Christ, that they are Blessed who mourn, “for they will be comforted” (Mt 5:4).  And he knows that if he is to “laugh now,” he will “grieve and weep” later (Lk. 6: 25)…

Please pray this prayer for my Grampa:

Eternal rest grant unto him O lord! And Let perpetual light shine upon him.  May he rest in peace. Amen.

Thank you.

  • Michael Paul

    I remember reading JP2 in Crossing the Threshold of Hope where he said the death was the great of all evils. And so the resurrection was the greatest triump over evil.

  • Grn724

    Since when is natural death evil?

    • Sean Mitchell

      My statement was that death is the greatest of all natural evils, not that natural death is evil. There is a difference. In my understanding of Thomistic philosophy, a natural evil, as opposed to a moral evil, indicates a lack of some good in the natural order—in this case, health. This is why I said (perhaps a bit exaggeratedly) that death is the greatest of all natural evils. For, it snuffs out an entire human life. It can not be compared in any significant sense with, say, the loss of an arm, which is another natural evil.

      • Grn724

        Thank you for the clarification.
        I will add, that death by any means minus suicide is the end of our physical existence and that is also joyful to the soul, being released from the bondage of human life, trapped by worldly desires originating in the mind. This daily conflict between the mind, body and soul is not natural to the soul, for the soul yearns for God solely and when death occurs, the soul has reached it's desired destination.

      • Howard

        That does not seem to be a Catholic perspective; it seems uncomfortably close to the Gnostic idea, in which the soul is good but the body evil.

        The Catholic teaching is that both body and soul are corrupted by sin. Death is a natural evil even for the saints, because the soul and body are meant to be together -- and, in fact, every soul will be reunited with its body after the Last Judgment. Furthermore, even most of those who are destined for Heaven do not go there immediately upon death, but first undergo purification in Purgatory. (That much is sure, even though the artistic depictions of Purgatory need to be understood as mere artistic depictions.) Sadly, not everyone chooses to accept Heaven; it is with good reason we ask the Blessed Virgin to "pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."

      • Grn724

        Maybe the word "soul" was not the correct term used, I don't know for sure. What I refer to as creatures of divine likeness to the creator, God imparts His very essence in everything created. So humans, God's highest creation, we have a definite image and likeness to God. This is the part of us that yearns for true togetherness with God. We reach this togetherness in our lifetime to the degree of our Faith and Faithfulness to God and do as He wills for us. The higher our faith the higher our relationship with God. When we pass from human existence and become the true essence of our being is indeed Heaven.

      • Howard

        Are you a Catholic? The beliefs you describe are indeed much more Gnostic than Catholic. For example, "... God imparts His very essence in everything created." No, not at all. Every creature in some way reflects the nature of God, but strictly speaking no creature actually shares that nature, or that creature would also be God. Of course, this requires some very careful language when describing the hypostatic union and the process of theosis, but the Church has spent centuries working out very carefully what are and are not valid descriptions of those tricky subjects.

      • Grn724

        A very sad reply. The God I believe, the God I trust, the God I rely on is far bigger than anything you can comprehend.

      • Howard

        The answer, then, is no, you are not a Catholic.

        The reason I wanted to know was because a Catholic will consider things like the teachings of the Church Fathers and the Catechism to be items of evidence that have to be taken very seriously, whereas a non-Catholic will consider them to be, at best, just some other guy's opinion.

        Frankly, since the "God [you] trust, the God [you] rely on is far bigger than anything [I] can comprehend," and since by your own account a part of this "God", you are in effect worshiping yourself. That is not something that can be changed by a Disqus conversation. The name for your beliefs is Gnosticism. Of course I disagree with it, as I disagree with Islam, but if a Muslim can call himself a Muslim so that people know what he believes, or a Buddhist can call himself a Buddhist so that people know what he believes, you might as well start using the proper name of your beliefs, too.

      • Grn724

        You make statements as if you "know" me, which you don't. What God has done for me is far greater than anything I could do for myself. I tried for decades to change until I got to the point I was not able to go on another day. It was at this moment I surrendered.
        What you profess is dogma, yet dogma had no role in my life saving mercy God bestowed upon me and I find dogma takes a role of confusing people with rules and regulations in much the same way the Pharisee's imposed on the people of their time. Jesus Christ speaks of this in calling out the elders of the Jewish faith and warns strongly against the imposition of such practices.
        Further, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church cannot agree nor follow their own dogma and completely dismiss much of what Christ brought to the world. They are not true to the Christ message, thus their teaching is not either. First century Christianity was lost a long time ago through ego propositions as to what the Church was to stand for and now they barely stand for anything Christ taught.

      • Howard

        No, I make statements like your previous comments were intended to actually mean something. Perhaps that was a hasty judgment, and you really just like to blather on for the sake of seeing your own words in type. It is unlikely that a conversation in person would be useful, but certainly there is no point in continuing this conversation. Good day.

  • Josh Riley

    Prayed for your grandfathers soul and peace to your family. I lost my father at 18 years of age and all of my grandparents before the age of 30. I think death is such a tough and confusing topic. Christ himself mourned death of his friends while on earth while also experiencing the greatest anxieties and pains of his own death. Yet we also read about so many of our saints that welcomed death beacause they knew this wasn’t the life they were living for. I think more should be shared and talked about on this topic. Thank you for opening your thoughts and heart at a tough time.