To Die In Action Or To Die In Harness
The importance of preparing each soul for the life of the World to come – one of the supreme acts of Christian Charity.
I have in mind premature death in adolescence or maturity but short of old age. Clearly there comes a point in time when a person has reached late middle age or an elderly age and death becomes a physical feature and even a probability to face. Death in adolescence is very rare but the individual will know what he or she must front up to by his family and friends unless the death is sudden and unexpected. The whole point of traditional Christianity was to remind each one of us to be prepared so as not to be taken unawares. The Church, Catholic and Anglican, has gone a little soft on this issue as the last War recedes into the distance. No one wants to upset anyone else and plain speaking has become “non u”. On this issue of unexpected death and illness striking down the young in their 20’s or middle age the Church has no answer as it has lost its way and can only mollify. Tears are all very well but without sorrow they have no value. Even an adolescent is entitled to sin and to be contrite – that is his sacred privilege never to be taken away. Let us not castrate our Christian theology and creed.
2. The way we approach death in Britain today.
Essentially as others have noted it is a taboo subject. The Last Judgement in Death with Heaven and Hell flowing there from are simply no go areas. Everyone treads far too carefully in these comfort zones. I remember Irish Catholic Parish Priests in the 1960’s and 1970’s in England warning their flocks these Four Last things were real and imminent. They wanted us to know we ignore their warnings at our peril. Naturally a number of parishioners would find this style of preaching as way off the mark now and then. You don’t hear those sermons nowadays. Of course no one wants to be inveigled or press ganged. Nevertheless those priests loved their flocks and would not mince their words for anyone. Oh that we had more priests with that mettle around us presently. They simply don’t make them that way anymore. If you don’t contemplate these Four Last things you will be a much impoverished Catholic and Anglican. There is one thing we can be certain of in life and that is death – not to encourage those in our midst to prepare for this most important event is gravely uncharitable and a dereliction of duty. You should not permit your loved ones to be caught napping. Individuals need guidance on these Four Last things and it is up to those in authority over them to give that guidance. God made us to believe and speak and pray not to go to sleep and miss the train so that it leaves the station without us. The thinking side of men and women should never be shut down – rather it should be opened up by challenging and impartial debate. It is this debate which is so lacking in the Christian practice and culture of our epoch in England.
3. The meaning of gravitas.
These are quintessentially serious matters. You cannot get more grave than the premature death of a person going with little or no preparation into the unseen world which is of far greater importance than his seen world. The Jewish and Islamic religions recognise this dichotomy. The Catholic Church is far too humdrum and places little spoken from the pulpit emphasis on the true meaning of the seen and unseen in its current approach to the coal face. When you die you pass from the visible to the invisible – it takes as long as you are given to be prepared for this transfer. Gravity is to face not the inevitability of death – that is a truism - gravity is to prepare yourself to face your Maker by whatever means you have. Catholics have the sacraments to rely on. Christ is the way to the Father but he never puts up barriers – he overturned the tables in the Temple of the money lenders and the pigeon traders. We may be confident whoever and wherever we are the way will be made clear – do not fret Christ will never desert you. Do not be discomforted for we shall be fully merrily united in Heaven (Sir Thomas More to his wife in the Tower of London). He was ministering to his wife and we must minister to each other in these deadly serious matters. Life and death are no joke or chimera but the gateway to eternal life or eternal damnation. I do not go with purgatory – any honourable man or woman will not aim for second best. Eternal damnation is so terrible we should never leave any one short of assistance on these issues. To stand by and do nothing means one thing only – evil will prevail. Woe betide he who walks on the other side of the road like the Levite – let us all emulate the Good Samaritan in that parable of Christ Himself’s telling.
I cannot overestimate the binding duty on each one of us from High Priests downwards in these matters of life and death – even more important than the making of peace, relief of poverty, chastity, purity of spirit and simple Christian observance. It is said a funeral and burial of the dead is a work of charity as I was told by an Anglican Preacher and Priest once – I wholeheartedly agree. If that is a work of charity how much more is the Christian charity of comforting the mournful and even before that the preparation of the souls on earth for Heaven herself. These three acts of charity exemplify my dictum be mindful of your mortality and prepare yourself for the world to come. You cannot overdo it. It will always reward further prayer and effort. We none of us know the day and the hour as Christ told us but you may be certain one day the demand on your soul will be made. Then it will be too late if you have filled your barns with grain that will not help you. I have discoursed on matters religious. The truth is the right of each person to make up his own mind must be at the bottom of what I have said. Yet as you will gather the second commandment is fundamental: Love your neighbour as yourself. Thus if you want to save yourself assist your neighbour as well in the most tactful method feasible. It would be appalling to wreck your neighbour’s chance of salvation by being overbearing. Always remember the words I quote time after time: In humility and charity. In humility and charity.