We celebrated my father-in-law’s funeral a week after his death. I’d planned on writing about that, and probably will. But not today. I ended up talking about funerals in general, Psalms and science — it’s about as linear as most of my posts:
- “Funeral Orgies”
- Death: It’s Inevitable
- Psalms and Copernicus — and H. P. Lovecraft
- Accepting Truth
- Life and Expectations
- Judgment Day Silliness
- Looking Past “These Few Years”
I’m a Catholic who speaks English and lives in America, so the verb I use to describe what we did is “celebrate.”
It makes sense, considering how we view life, death and sacraments.
Sacraments, in the Catholic sense, are something we do because our Lord said they’re important. Really important:
SACRAMENT “Efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church….”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary, p. 898)
A funeral is the sacrament where we look back at our Lord’s last Passover, and ahead to “…the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” (Catechism, 1680)
Some details reflect regional cultures and traditions. (Catechism, 1685)
That’s because the Catholic Church really is καθολικός, katholikos, universal. What’s important in our faith hasn’t changed, and won’t. How we live our faith, the details, changes as our cultures change. (February 4, 2018; October 15, 2017)
11th century Bremen isn’t 21st century Minnesota, or 31st century who-knows-where. And that’s okay.
“‘…Orgies is better, because it means the thing you’re after more exact….'”
(“Huckleberry Finn,” Chapter 25, Mark Twain)
Most Catholic funerals, that is.
I was at a funeral Mass where some of the bereaved folks came up front for a few words. One of them launched into a lengthy and impassioned panegyric. She finally got winded and sat down.
That was the first and last time I saw folks come up front to say their piece at a Catholic funeral. Not that I’ve been to many, Catholic or otherwise.
I don’t doubt that the overly-enthusiastic eulogist was sincere, and quite possibly accurate. But impassioned and seemingly-interminable monologues like that are embarrassing, at least for me. Sharing good memories is one thing. Laying them on with a trowel is another.
Maybe that’s why my father-in-law said ‘don’t let them canonize me’ to the parish priest. The priest mentioned that remark at some point, I don’t remember when.
How we share has been changing since I started paying attention. Photo displays are, to my knowledge, only a few decades old. Some now include digital media.
Getting ready for these remembrances may be easier when we’re dealing with someone like my father-in-law.
But it’s never, I think, easy.
Folks in my household and extended family have been putting together photo montages and other memento collections: some of which have been displayed in his house. One of my brothers-in-law was showing folks around the house after the wake.
I don’t have a problem with that sort of thing.
Maybe because I’ve yet to experience one that’s like the “orgies” in old jokes. I don’t see a point in describing a philanthropist, font of wisdom and all-round good guy who’s pretty much the opposite of the irascible old coot being buried.
Enough, maybe too much, of what can go wrong with “funeral orgies.”
Or excessively fascinated.
No two people, likely enough, respond the same way. Which era we’re in, where we’ve been living, our experiences, personalities and beliefs affect each of us differently. (April 11, 2018; November 11, 2016)
I’m well past this life’s midpoint, so my anxieties and interests aren’t quite like a child’s or youth’s. But they’re probably not that much different, either. Not when I step back and look at the big picture.
I see death as something that happens. It’s inevitable, or nearly so. Exceptions, like Elijah’s spectacular departure in 2 Kings 2:8–14, are — exceptional. I’ve talked about miracles, peanut butter and comic strips before. (August 13, 2017)
I can’t reasonably expect heavenly limousine service, with or without “a fiery chariot and fiery horses.” Death? That’s something I can expect. It’s inevitable.
How I see death may take a little explaining, starting with how I see faith and reason, science and religion.
If you’ve read my ‘science and religion’ posts, you know that I think this universe is filled with wonders, and that learning more about it is a good idea. Science and faith both seek truth, or should. (January 28, 2018; October 29, 2017)
Noticing and appreciating this universe isn’t new. We’ve known all along that we live in a good, beautiful and vast world — and been impressed.
“God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day.”
“How great are your works, LORD!
How profound your designs!”
Some realized that what we see points toward God. Others were overly impressed by the show, and didn’t notice “the original source of beauty….” (Wisdom 13:3)
“Praise him, sun and moon;
“praise him, all shining stars.”
“Instead either fire, or wind, or the swift air,
or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water,
or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world, they considered gods.
“Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods, let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these; for the original source of beauty fashioned them.”
The sun and moon haven’t changed much since Psalms 148 was composed, or Aristotle said that we live at the center of the universe. Or the bottom, if you’re thinking about Aristotelian physics.
What we know about the sun, moon and beyond has changed; particularly in the five centuries since Copernicus wrote “Dē revolutionibus….”
I’m fascinated by what we’re learning. But that’s not the only possible reaction to “such terrifying vistas of reality.”
“…The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age….”
(“The Call of Cthulhu,” H. P. Lovecraft (1929); via WikiQuote)
Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” isn’t on a par with Thomas Paine’s “Reason” or J. B. S. Haldane’s “Fact and Faith.” But I think it echoes how folks deal with our new horizons. Some folks, that is.
I might be scared of what we’re learning, if I imagined that my fate depended on Aristotle being right. Or that philosophers and scientists create or control reality: that Earth really was in the center of celestial spheres when Aristotle said it was, and started orbiting our sun when Copernicus wrote about his theory.
I have no idea whether anyone really believes that. On the other hand, a few folks insist that Earth is flat, and that’s another topic.
I figure that no philosopher or scientist can change reality’s source code. Humans can understand the physical laws of this universe. Inventors can use that knowledge to develop new tools. It’s part of being human. So is having a thirst for truth. (Catechism, 27, 2293)
Science and faith both assume that absolute truth exists. But, as a science editor pointed out, they look at different aspects of truth:
“…It’s something too many of us forget, that reality has layers. Occasionally people ask me how I can be Catholic and a science journalist. The answer is simple: Truth does not contradict truth. Both science and religion are pursuit of truth. They’re after different aspects of truth, different layers of reality, but they’re still both fundamentally about truth.
“We assume that there’s a right and a wrong way to describe the universe. … Quantum mechanics is right or it’s wrong. It isn’t right for some folks and wrong for others. Truth is truth whether we know the truth or not: Earth revolved around the sun even when people thought it was the other way around.
“Science teaches us, in other words, that absolute truth exists. It doesn’t tell us why, or Who that Truth is. Science is a marvelous tool, but in our marveling we must not forget that science is our interaction with and understanding of physical reality. It’s immensely powerful, but it’s not metaphysical….”
(“Science and faith offer different but kindred paths to grasping reality,” Camille M. Carlisle, Sky and Telescope (June 2017))
We didn’t have all the answers when Copernican theory upset Aristotelian applecarts. We still don’t. But we’ve learned a bit more.
We learned that planetary orbits aren’t perfectly circular. We discovered that Copernicus was right, to an extent. This universe isn’t centered on Earth, or our sun. Most of it isn’t even in our galaxy.
I don’t mind living in a universe that’s neither geocentric nor heliocentric.
I figure God is still large and in charge. This is also not a new idea.
“Terrible and awesome are you,
stronger than the ancient mountains.”
“Yours are the heavens, yours the earth;
you founded the world and everything in it.”
“Indeed, before you the whole universe is like a grain from a balance,
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.”
“His gaze spans all the ages:
is there any limit to his saving action?
To him, nothing is small or insignificant,
and nothing too wonderful or hard for him.”
I figure Pope Leo XIII and St. Augustine of Hippo are right.
God creates everything. We don’t have all the answers. Using our brains is okay. So is studying God’s creation. Scientific discoveries are invitations “to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator….” (Catechism, 283)
“…God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures – and that therefore nothing can be proved either by physical science or archaeology which can really contradict the Scriptures. … Even if the difficulty is after all not cleared up and the discrepancy seems to remain, the contest must not be abandoned; truth cannot contradict truth….”
(“Providentissimus Deus,” Pope Leo XIII (November 18, 1893) [emphasis mine])
“Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air…. They all answer you, ‘Here we are, look; we’re beautiful.’…
“…So in this way they arrived at a knowledge of the god who made things, through the things which he made.”
(Sermon 241, St. Augustine of Hippo (ca. 411))
Deciding that I’ll believe the bits I like, and reject truths I don’t isn’t an option. Not if I’m going to be a Catholic.
Even if I felt like it, rejecting what we’re learning wouldn’t make sense. As I’ve said before, faith isn’t reason. But it’s reasonable, and certainly not against an honest search for truth. (Catechism, 31–35, 159; “Fides et Ratio;” “Gaudium et Spes,” 36)
Happily, I like living in a universe that’s vast and ancient on a cosmic scale.
I also like having a body.
The notion that there’s something basically bad about bodies, or anything physical, goes back at least two dozen centuries. Variations with a Christian spin keep cropping up, sort of like bindweed. (April 21, 2018; April 15, 2018)
Cherophobiac cognoscenti — there’s a tongue-twister for you — aside, matter isn’t basically bad. Having a body isn’t a problem. Humans are body and soul, and this is “very good.” (Genesis 1:27, 31; Catechism, 285, 337–349, 355–373, 285, 1703)
I’m human, so my soul is spiritual and immortal, created by God. (Catechism, 366)
Like every other human, I’m a creature made from the stuff of this world and God’s ‘breath.’ We’re made in the image of God, with a body and “equally endowed with rational souls.” (Catechism, 355–379, 872, 1703, 1880, 1934, 1934–1937)
I could try believing that death doesn’t happen, that my body will keep living forever. Since I’m a Catholic, that’s almost what I expect, but not quite.
Seeing this life as all that there is could let me think I can do whatever I like, with consequences limited to what happens before I die.
That could mean good times for me, with cleanup left as a chore for someone else.
An anthropomorphized “All Dogs Go to Heaven” theology could have the same effect, provided I didn’t think too much about justice and all that.
Predestination is another can of worms. One that I’ve talked about before. You’ll find “Predestination” in the inevitable link list after this post.
Living forever will be good news or bad news, depending partly on what I’ve done with my life. But I won’t be dragged, kicking and screaming, into Heaven if I don’t want to go.
It’s my choice, one I’ll make at the performance review we call the particular judgment. I’m not looking forward to it, since my record is far from spotless, but it’s unavoidable. (Catechism, 1021–1037, 1042–1050)
My soul and body will be rejoined in time for the Final Judgment. How resurrection gets done is something I don’t know. Not the nuts-and-bolts operational details. I can’t. God does, which works for me. (Catechism, 997–1004, 1031, 1042–1050, 1059)
Folks who buy ‘End Times are Nigh’ books aren’t all like Non Sequitur’s Lucky Eddie. Some are smart, some are well-read.
My guess, and it’s no more than a guess, is that many never got around to thinking hard about what they believe and why they believe it. Or don’t realize how often another ‘End Times’ prognostication flares, fizzles and fades.
It’s been several months since I ran into an in-progress “rapture” prediction, so we’re probably due for another one.
“Rapture,” by the way, is one of America’s contributions to world culture. Along with Mickey Mouse and Marlboro cigarettes, and that’s yet another topic. Topics.
I don’t take America’s perennial ‘End Times Bible Prophecies’ seriously, apart from the effect they have on folks. And as opportunities to talk about what I do, and don’t, expect.
I think the Final Judgment will happen. I don’t know when that will be. That’s fine by me.
Details of the Final Judgment’s timetable seem to be available on a ‘need to know’ basis. The Son of God didn’t need to know, so I sure don’t.
I very strongly suspect that most efforts at imagining what’s next are about as accurate as Albert Robida’s flying cars. That hasn’t kept folks from trying. Revelation 21 seems to be a favorite starting point, and that’s yet again another topic.
Whatever it’s like, I expect it’ll be better than I expect. Better than I can expect.
“Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
“Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with the elect.
“But the wicked shall receive a punishment to match their thoughts,
since they neglected righteousness and forsook the LORD.
“For those who despise wisdom and instruction are doomed.
Vain is their hope, fruitless their labors,
and worthless their works.”
“The number of their days seems great
if it reaches a hundred years.
“Like a drop of water from the sea and a grain of sand,
so are these few years among the days of eternity.
“That is why the Lord is patient with them
and pours out his mercy on them.”
“But as it is written:
‘What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him,'”
(1 Corinthians 2:9)
More of how I see life, death and the big picture: