Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Novena for Fr. Jaki - Eighth Day

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
...there is no trace of despair in Jesus' death. Otherwise the good thief would not have begged to be remembered when he was coming into his Kingdom. And just as in Jesus' case death was overshadowed by resurrection, so it was in Paul's case. Paul, too, kept death and resurrection in an indissoluble unity. He set forth that unity in terms of his existential experience which he detailed in chapter 4 of his Second Letter to the Corinthians. He begins with excoriating false teachers, who "specialize in shameful, underhanded practices," the purpose of which is to dilute the reality of the resurrection of Jesus by slighting his crucifixion. But only the unity of the two gives salvation, which Paul carries, so he states, in an earthen vessel. The whiff of death breathes through in every detail Paul is now to give. That he speaks in the plural is a hint that what he says of himself would be shared by all the faithful...


The world, or the universe, is surely a priceless gem, as Chesterton once put it. But the value of the universe vanishes if, as Whitehead claimed in his philosophical cosmology, the universe takes on all possible forms of cosmic frames as it allegedly lives through eternity and, presumably, we all with it. How would one know? No science can give guidance within such flights of fancy, so many vain flights from the reality of a once-and-for-all life and death.

It is important to note that the purpose of marshalling cases of Christian heroism in the face of cruel deaths was not to frighten ordinary Christians, many of whom, through the mercy of God, are destined to die comfortably in bed. The purpose was to protect them from the disease of self-pity in the face of trials that appear harsh only when viewed out of proportion. Here attention has been called to the danger of being lured by vain flights from death, flights dressed up in the latest of worldly sophistication. Disease will not become less dangerous just by its coming in medical gowns indicative of superb skills and in lab-coats suggestive of fabulous learning. In that case the disease may prove to be even more lethal.

The Catholic must chart his or her path to death in a spirit which is dominated neither by fright nor by overconfidence. There is nothing new in this observation, though it may sound novel in this age of "new" spirituality, which favors more the body than the soul, turns the soul into a mere psyche, and ignores any critical mind who knows that theology did not begin a few decades ago. The Catholic is on the right path when he or she, though falling seven times a day as does the just (Prov 24:16), still cherishes Newman's remark that a venial sin is a greater catastrophe than all cosmic catastrophes taken together.

To cherish such notion is to have the right perspective. To cling to it is a proof of one's right intention, which ultimately decides one's eternal fate. This is not to be taken for a suggestion that one should sin freely. It became the privilege of Martin Luther, this archprophet of subjectivism, to speak in a vein that can rightly be translated into "pecca fortiter, sed fide fortius," or "sin spiritedly, but believe even more strongly." The Christian can take great comfort from the fact that Christ came to save sinners and not to call the righteous, and certainly not the self-righteous.

Few things are as appropriate as to mark the entrance of religious houses with Saint Bernard's words: "In monasteries one falls less frequently, but also rises more rapidly." For Christians living in the world the relative frequency of falling and rising may be different, but the fact remains that many lay Christians kept their baptismal innocence intact throughout their lives, of which a momentous instance was given in the preceding chapter. But only such succeeded in living innocently, for whom the fear of the Lord has been always the beginning of all their wisdom and who never let the specter of death drift out of their focus.

They feared death in a way which did not encourage them to seek vain flights, - thanatological, clinical, psychological, and pseudo-theological - from death's fearsome reality. Whatever their pains, they looked at death as a portal of punishment beyond which a triad of the greatest comforting realities beckoned to them. Those three were known to them as Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, whose mere names tell infinitely more than thick volumes of theologizing on death. Most importantly, no learning, let alone its veneer, is needed to grasp and relish the significance and power of those three, and precisely when one is in the throes of dying.
[Jaki, Death?]


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