Thursday, December 11, 2008

"...As Those Who Have No Hope..."

No, this isn't another reflection on the President-Elect of Death and his campaign mantra of "hope"; I'm sure I'll address that again, eventually. This concerns something a bit more local and immediate, though I'm sure others will be able to relate to at least some of it.

As I mentioned briefly, a few weeks ago, the Catholic school at which I teach suffered a tragic loss, when two students and their father died in a plane crash (while their mother and two brothers were in a car, en route to meet them). A period of shock, followed by grieving, set in (which was good and fitting)... but in the series of talks eulogies, and presentations to (and from) the students (both verbally and in writing, memorial notes, etc.), a theme kept coming up. Maybe you've heard this one:

"They're not gone. They'll always live on in our hearts."

Again, and again: "We'll never forget you! They'll never be gone, so long as we keep their memories alive! You'll always be alive in our hearts!"

I wanted to scream.

Just how pervasive is this? Is this the extent to which we've sunk? In a school which embraces the title of "Catholic" (which is still Christian, last I heard), the only "continued life" it can recommend is "living on in our hearts and minds?" Forgive me (and I truly mean no disrespect to the family, or to those who are having a difficult time with this shocking loss--allowances for human frailty must be made, to be sure), but is this the best that this "Christian" school can offer to those who grieve? To borrow a phrase from Our Lord: "Do not the pagans do as much?" It's horrid enough that such hope-less nonsense is coming from the mouths of our children--it means that catechesis is in a shambles (which we've known anyway, but this is a particularly bitter and poisonous aspect of it), but they're young enough perhaps not to know any better--but this was coming from the mouths of *adults* who were trying to comfort these same children! Is this the best we can offer for comfort? To "grieve as the pagans do, without hope" (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:12)? To act, for all practical purposes, as if there is no life to come, and that "only in our hearts and minds" can our beloved dead "stay alive"?

Let me lay this out clearly, at least for the sake of my own sanity (and, God willing, for alerting others):

1) If you are Christian, you are one who--by definition--believes in every article of the Apostles' Creed... including the bit about "[I believe in] the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. AMEN." It isn't true because we believe it. We believe it because it's true. (Amazing, what difference a small change in word order makes!)

2) To put it as bluntly as I can: if every last person on earth (including you!) were to be stricken with amnesia, so as to forget, utterly, everything about every loved one you ever cherished... if every last person (including you!) were to be stricken with some loathsome spiritual disease by which every last scrap of your "heart's devotion" toward your beloved dead was turned to utter hatred... you know what? Those beloved dead WOULD STILL EXIST. They don't dissolve into nothingness, the instant we stop thinking of them! Remember the "immortality of the soul", and all that "silly theology stuff" (that just happens to be critically relevant--imagine that)?

To highlight that idea: more than a few students, who were dear friends of the boys who died (or who wish they'd been closer, and were feeling guilty), honestly talked and behaved as if they simply weren't *allowed* to stop grieving--as if, by thinking about other things, even for a moment, they were somehow "betraying" the kids (and dad) who died... or worse, that they were somehow "allowing them to disappear from existence, never to get them back". From what I've gathered, this idea--while not exactly epidemic--isn't exactly a "fluke" occurrence, either; a significant number of people honestly think that they're obligated--in some way, shape or form--to grieve forever, so as to "keep the departed from disappearing completely"... a bit like Atlas holding up the world, lest it crash, or a bit like holding a soap-bubble on a soap-wand, lest it touch anything else and "pop".

Don't get me wrong: the idea of "remembering our beloved dead" can be a wonderful thing, if done in the right way, for the right reasons. If your remembrance of them moves you to *pray* for them (Note: I'll write a separate entry about that idea, later!), then yes, this is a good thing. But if your remembrance of them is a sort of "I need to 'keep them alive'!" idea, then I need to issue a very stern rebuke:


God alone holds life and death in the palm of His hand (cf. John 10:28); in God alone are all our beloved dead "alive" (cf. Matthew 22:32). God really doesn't need you to sustain them in existence; He has that quite under control, thank you.

Again, I have no desire to add to the pain of grief, for someone who's lost a loved one and hasn't yet taken these truths to heart. But I refuse to stand by, in the name of misplaced "mercy", and watch the poison arrow of "pagan grief" swallow you alive. By all means, it is good to grieve at the death of a loved one; we honor them and their precious value before God (and to us), when we do so, as Jesus Himself demonstrated when He--the God of creation, the Resurrection and the Life--wept at the death of Lazarus (cf. John 11:35); if He, Who knew full well that He was to restore Lazarus to earthly life in mere minutes, and Who knew that eternal life awaited Lazarus in the years to come, could weep, then we can, as well. But please, I beg of you, know that we can, through the victory of Christ, grieve without losing (true) hope, and even without losing true joy!

As a hat-tip across cyberspace: Sarah, on her excellent blog, recently posted about the fact that the "lifeblood" of Christianity, if you will, is paradox. The Creator took on a created nature, and the Immortal One subjected Himself to death. The Master of Life--who, by human reckoning, should have been chuckling behind His hand in glee in anticipation of His resurrection of Lazarus ("Just you wait and see what *I* have up My sleeve!"), instead wept with heartbroken grief. The All-Holy God, Who would have been all too justified in wiping all of us sinful, rebellious and prideful creatures from the face of the earth, chose instead to let us rip His Sacred Back to shreds with a whip, to tear His Sacred Head with thorns, and to pound 6-inch spikes through His Sacred Hands and Feet, to leave Him to die, naked, of suffocation and shock after hours of agony, surrounded by mockery.

Is it so hard to believe that this same God, in Whose Sacred Image and Likeness we were made, can empower us bothto grieve and, at the very same time (not waiting for later) to cherish the joy found in true (and not counterfeit) HOPE--a hope that no "worldly secular messiah" could ever give? At the very brink of His agony in the Garden, mere hours before He was tortured to death for our sins, and before the spiritual agony of all of Hell was injected into His Sacred Heart on our behalf, He said, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and your joy may be filled."

Grieve for the beloved dead, by all means. But know that such grief, when used in complete submission to God's Holy Will (by which everything--no matter how agonizing and dark--will work to good, for those who love Him--Romans 8:28), can live side-by-side with faith, hope, love... and even joy. Only the world's "grief" and the world's "hope" and the world's "joy" cannot coexist; I assure you, God's true versions are far stronger than they.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Trying again (to post)...

and might I add here that I was innocently reading along when- WHAT!! (blush!) Thanks for that little shout out in this posting :)

"Grieve for the beloved dead, by all means. But know that such grief, when used in complete submission to God's Holy Will (by which everything--no matter how agonizing and dark--will work to good, for those who love Him--Romans 8:28), can live side-by-side with faith, hope, love... and even joy."

Hard for our human minds to grasp- especially when we're in the middle of that crippling grief. But it's in remembering the truth that the sovereign plan of God does indeed work all things for good that we CAN have hope in dark times, and even joy!