Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Sooner or later in a blog like this, I've got to write about death. Because it's something we all, will have to face.

However, I find I wrote about death last week so this will be my second post about it. Oh well.

I will never forget an email I got early in my web net era. The writer, a young woman, wrote:

"You are correct about starvation killing us. What I want to know is, how long does it take to die of starvation? You see I stopped eating a week ago."
In my usual manner, I was reading email in the early hours of the morning and I stared at that one for several minutes, a feeling of horror creeping over me. Something about it led me to believe she was serious and really wanted to end her own life. I wrote back what might be called a collection of "bromides" (what DO you say to someone who is intent on ending her life?). Like "you have your whole life ahead of you" and "can anything be so bad that death is preferable to living?" and so forth. I never heard back from the woman so don't know if she was reaching out in her final hour or if she aborted the plan. I hope, of course, the latter.

We all have seen death in the movies and TV many times. I'm sure you are familiar with the scene.

Bad guys (and women) die quickly, usually by accident or gunshot but since they have no personality, we don't worry about them.

And good people die lying there, either in their beds or on the street. They have a serene look on their faces - some even seem look wide eyed at the other side of the room suggesting they have seen an angel coming to get them (and in many movies, people are SHOWN on the other side, walking in a beautiful field of flowers toward a golden horizon).

Church tells us we should work and pray for a Holy Death. Which is basically what the movies are showing us. A beautiful death where we smoothly transition from life to eternity. In the "Hail Mary" we ask Jesus' mother to pray for us during the two most important times in our lives.... NOW at the moment -and- at the hour of our death.

Trouble is, being 63 years old, I'm beginning to see some folks around me die and their deaths are anything but the movie variety. They are angry, they often fight with their families and a greater number than we would like to think, commit suicide by stopping consuming liquids and food.

A relative in our family who was dying of cancer, told his wife "Come on let's get on with this" and he stopped drinking fluids. He rallied for a day when some of his siblings came to visit him and he ate some popsicles but then the day after they left, no fluids again.

A priest friend of mine had two personas. One was the kindly elderly priest - what most people who knew him saw. The other was the one I knew, an angry disappointed man who wondered every day whether he had made the wrong life decision. A man who was so angry, he felt he couldn't face his anger and told me he distracted himself when he started thinking about it. "Has that diminished your anger?" I once asked him. "No" he admitted.

I felt it's always better to face one's fears and anger because that's the only way to get rid of it. One of my favorite poems is "the litany of fear" from Herbert's Sci Fi book, DUNE:

"Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it is gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain."
Of course, men tend to suppress their emotions and he was no exception. On the contrary. He did not take my advice about this, and so, instead of facing his fears, he got increasingly angry and afraid inside. And it began to, I believe, take its toll on him physically.

I guess I hoped he would come to grips with his life situations which really were not bad - he had lived a long full life and I thought a nice retirement and resting for his last years when he really could pray and spend time with God getting ready for the big passage (and interceding for the many people in the world who are needy), would be the ticket.

But that was not to be. Instead he starved himself more and worked feverishly to avoid thinking about how angry and afraid he was inside.

"My greatest fear", he once told me, "is that when I face God in death, I will reject Him!" I thought that was ridiculous - who would say "no" to God. He looked sad and said I didn't understand. And I guess I didn't.

But God in His Mercy, must have thought that a real possibility because as it turned out, he had some kind of stroke and was so confused before he lost consciousness forever, that he undoubtedly didn't even THINK about refusing God's mercy.

And I suppose in a way that tells us just how merciful God IS but geesh, this is NOT how you want to see a priest die!

I am remembering a saying I once heard "most men live a life of quiet desperation!"

I have seen one lady die a Holy Death - she was a patient named Anna whom I visited a few times to give her Communion. And I was not with her when she died but I saw in her face, when I visited her the last couple of times, real beauty, breathtaking beauty. Almost like a luminescence shining out from her face. I bring those I go to visit, treats like candy or small gifts (magazines etc) but to this lady, the greatest gift I could give her was praying the Rosary with her. One time she made it through (and this was difficult because she was very ill). "We made it through," she said, triumphantly in her weakened voice and touched my arm with her frail hand. "yes, true" I said, smiling at her beautiful face.

The last time I visited her, three days before her death, she was too weak to say a Rosary so we said a couple of "Hail Mary's". I gently took her arm and said "Anna, you know I love you!" and she said "Yes I do and I love you too".

A couple of days later, her daughter called to tell me that she had died. I felt great serenity about her death because when I saw her, she was on the threshold of Heaven.

But most I have seen die, do not die Holy Deaths and some die definitely unholy deaths but God in His Mercy will reach out to us all and I guess that's as inspirational as seeing someone die a Holy Death.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Living forever on earth - a heaven or the other place

Living forever on earth is something which has occurred to each of us, I'm sure, especially as we grow older. And death not being particularly appealing, the idea of not having to face it, seems at first, a rather pleasant one.

It has been the subject of several movies, one of which is called "Tuck Everlasting". I don't remember much about this movie except that a girl whom our hero (who is living forever on earth after drinking from a spring) has fallen in love with , chooses to _not_ drink from the Spring because she decides she doesn't want to live forever. At least not on earth. I believe Tuck moves on... he's seen many live and die - no big deal.

In searching the web, the subject is discussed a lot but no one reaches any conclusion about whether this would be a good idea or not.

Perhaps one of the most memorable treatments of the subject was a TV show wherein a magic man gives the elderly in a nursing home (none of whom are suffering from the usual maladies like osteoporosis, alzheimers, or blindness) the chance to be kids again. All of them jump, at first, at the idea of moving without pain and having their whole lives ahead of them. But one by one, as they think about it and even experience being young, they decide against it. One lady says that she does not want to be young again without the love of her life at her side. Another person says he would not want to live through his life again. In the end, all the elderly go back to being elderly and only one individual remains a youth - he joyfully bid his littermates farewell and goes bounding through an open window into the night, headed for a lifetime of new adventures. I (probably like many other viewers) reached no conclusion about whether I would like to be the one who remains a youth or whether I would go back to being old and arthritic. Perhaps that was because I was reasonably young when I first watched this show.

Truth is, we all have a desire to live forever but most of us, especially as we grow older, get to feeling that perhaps living forever would not be real fun, if we remained earthbound.

The movie "Cocoon" and its sequel attempts to solve the dilemma without annoying anyone by mentioning the unmentionable (God, Heaven). It pictures a group of elderly going to "another place" which is pictured like a PERFECT earth where there is no sickness and pain. Heaven as Christians think of it, is strongly hinted at. Especially poignant in "Cocoon: The Return" was the separation of one grandpa from his grandson. Grandson was temporarily happy when his Grandpa returned but very sad when Grandpa leaves the earth forever.

Being 63 years old and having lost, first my best friend, 5 years ago (whom I still miss - she died of cancer) and recently having lost my Spiritual Advisor, a Jesuit priest who just turned 80 last year, I am beginning to formulate MY answer to this dilemma. I feel it would only be fun living forever if one could be with those one loves. For it seems that Heaven begins with being with our loved ones and goes from there.

And perhaps this lonely feeling we get when friends start being called Home, is planned by God to help us get over the fear of the great unknown, the sheer terror of the crossing over from earth to beyond. As time moves on, we think more and more about that place or state of being about which the Bible tells us "earth has not seen nor man has not known of the glories God has planned for those who love Him".

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Priest dismissed because of pro life homily?

Lifesite news recently reported that a priest in the diocese of Rockford, was dismissed because of daring to preach on Natural Family Planning (NFP). That does sound concerning so I researched it a bit.

I couldn't get hold of anyone at the parish but I did read the homily available on the Lifesite website. Even from reading the homily, I got a very different point of view of what happened than was reported by Lifesite news.

First of all, it wasn't a homily, but rather a sermon having little to do with the readings (the homily is supposed to be a clarification of or based on the readings of the day).

Second, it was rather long and he rambled on and on. In places, the sermon could have been called a rant.

Third, he was inflammatory toward doctors, categorizing all of them (he did not qualify his statements to say "some" or even "many") as money greedy and incompetent. I understand his ire toward the medical profession but spinning negative stereotypes during a sermon in church is very inappropriate.

Fourth, he recommended (for some reason) two secular books on NFP which he admitted DID advocate contraception which is against church law - there is a Billings website, there is couples-to-couples league, EWTN and one-small-life and lots of CATHOLIC groups putting out NFP information so why would he recommend two secular books which advocate contraception? Most concerning about that is that NFP is NOT "Catholic contraception" and should NOT be thought of as such. It is making conception a decision between two married people and then, leaving the door open for God to override in case He sees fit. VERY different idea from contraception and important for Catholics to understand the difference.

Fifth, although Fr Tom's sermon mentioned that NFP was God's Plan, the sermon had nothing whatsoever to DO with the season of Advent or getting ready for the coming of Jesus and God has little mention in the sermon or rant.

It is not surprising that several parishioners left the church in frustration especially as this may not have been the first time Fr Tom gave a similar talk.

Can't blame them. As pro life as I am, I think I would rather hear a HOMILY on the readings, during the holy season of Advent (and I heard some excellent ones which helped me get ready for Christmas). Mentioning pro life is very appropriate but doing a teaching on the mechanics of NFP (including how one does it) during Advent when one is supposed to be talking about the readings seems very inappropriate even to some of us who are pro life folks.

My bets are, his dismissal from the parish is NOT because he was talking about NFP from the pulpit but rather has to do with many factors, some of which may be:

  • That there may have been several complaints about his long Off Topic rants
  • The fact that he admitted he was hospitalized recently for an unnamed illness but in a 70 year old, every illness is serious - his health may just not be holding up well under the stress of parish work
  • That he seems to have no qualms about putting inflamatory statements into his sermons - those really don't do any good and can end up turning people away from the church

So now the diocese is likely finding him a position which will be easier on him energy-wise as well as discerning a place for him which will make the best use of his ardent pro life feelings and ability to teach NFP (maybe at this moment they are making a blog for him to write in!). :)

There are unfortunately, several pro life sources which have high visiblity, which do not check their information well and often write with a heavy bias.

Bad information from Catholics and/or pro lifers is as annoying as bad information from the press. In these days of spin we must question --- EVERYTHING....