Covid-19 and the Prospect of Death

(Many of these essays here on this web-site are intended for our post_Christian agnostic, skeptical, humanitarian-believing brothers and sisters, who have had little knowledge, if any, of the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic Church. Yet, much of the underpinning of these thoughts are just the common sense philosophical pretty-strong arguments of non-Christian, pre-Christian Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the widely-held beliefs of mankind over millennia.)

Covid-19 – we all are getting quite unsettled by it. Thoughts of one’s demise arise more frequently than in the past, even though we shrug off the prospect of Death and say: “Gotta go sometime,” the idea of Death stays just underneath our consciousness like a bad smell.

Well, Death is a horrible prospect no matter what way one looks at it! I do not, definitely not, want to die, and nobody else wants to die as well. Death is an awesome fact of life. It is the end of life, my life, my whole series of prospects, adventures, relationships, hobbies, everyday awareness of things as they are. Death is the end. The End.

Death is the most unnatural event, most ghastly thing that is going to happen to everyone born on earth. Yes, animals die, but they don’t know it. To us human beings, it is a confrontation of something not right. Death is not right. There is something wrong with life, existence, if we have to die! I mean, what is the meaning of life if we have to die. Eventually, there is nothing left of us in this world which will remain. Our works, our achievements, our families, even our grave stones will disappear eventually. Nothing remains. Death takes it all.

Or does it?

The fact of Death raises two possibilties: either we human beings are constituted of purely material objects, or we have a soul, an essential constituent, which exists after Death.

The first possibility, that we are purely material beings, is pretty stupid, really. Matter does not look at itself, chemicals don’t stand outside themselves and think. Pure materialism is just outrageously stupid. It is obvious that no matter how much we explain our functioning in material terms, it is the very fact of our standing outside ourselves explaining material causes which is contradictory. What is the thing which stands out, which sees the picture, the logic, the whole rather than the material parts? It ain’t matter!

Just suppose we are nothing but material processes, then there is no meaning to anything, there is no meaning to a bunch of protons and electrons, no matter how complex they are assembled. “Meaning” is something beyond the parts: and that is the constituent element of a human being which allows us to give meaning to anything and it can’t be material. So there is a constituent element of being a human being called the “soul” for want of a better word. I hate using the word “spiritual”. Too many silly connotations with that word. Even the word “soul” has too many silly connotations. But we have to use such words but try to be as accurate in our use of them as is possible.

So, to the second possibility: we have a soul, an essential part of being a human being. And when we die the soul continues to exist. This is not rocket science: for ever since man has been earth mankind has and will always believe in life after death, some kind of personal existence. That is just common sense. Almost all believe in life after death, one big reason being the need for justice after death, some kind of ordering of the good and the bad, some kind of punishment and reward. Otherwise, if there is no justice then there is no good or bad, no consequences for the evil man who may be full of hate and kill millions of people but is kind to dogs and small children, and dies peacefully in his bed.

However, there are many, many beliefs about what constitutes this kind of “soul” existence as there are cultures and individuals on earth: from the idea that this soul transmigrates to another plane of physical existence in another material being, to the idea of a “ghost-like” being that is just like a physical human being without the “physical” body.

So, let’s examine the idea of the “soul”. It is a principle of life which gives order and direction to the physical elements of a body. In a human being, this “soul” is self-aware to the point of being aware of its being self-aware – our soul looks onto itself’s own self-awareness, and one can conceptualise an infinite number of steps of being aware of self to aware of self on to infinity. So, the meaning of the soul is to end in some kind of being in touch with the infinite – a huge jump from being just a functioning material being, fulfilling its normal physical requirements. Whatever happens after Death, this “soul” is still aware. And therefore our life is not completed at death.

Sure, we can no longer call the soul a human being: it’s not, it is missing a body. What a huge wrench, a huge divorce of two elements which makes us human. That is what makes Death horrible, unnatural. It stops the fulfilment of being complete: of reaching the truth, of achieving the highest dreams we can think of, because without a body, the soul after death is not complete either. Mr John Doe is no longer, even though his soul lives on. His soul is not a human being!

What is worse is that this soul has no longer a body to inform it of the senses which it requires to operate: no touch, no sensation, no physical world to respond to, to interreact with. It lies open to whatever constitutes the non-material universe, of which we know very little. And since it is sense data which gives the soul options to choose one thing over another, the will is probably fixed after death. The will needs data to choose options. A mystery is that one cannot know whether the will or orientation of a person’s soul to reality after death can change. The same with understanding: does the soul understand the state it is in? Is it aware of things in the physical world? The soul will still be “individuated”, that is, it is different from anyone else’s soul, because it’s understanding and memory and habits of thought have been imprinted on it by it’s body all its existence.

All the above discussion is pretty much basic Aristotlean philosophy. It is fairly minimalist. Aristotle worked with a scientific mind from first principles and made no assumptions beyond the limits of reasoning. The Catholic Church’s teaching about the soul are pretty much the same as Aristotle. The above fits with common sense reasoning without being sensationalist.

But where philosophy ends, religious beliefs begin.

The big questions are about the soul and God, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Since we live in a post-Christian world many people choose to minimise the role of all of these beliefs. They have heard about Jesus and love and mercy, about heaven being the reward for good people. They believe that most people are “good”. They are also infected with the Enlightenment belief that we are all born “good” and that good and evil actions are only really caused by social and economic factors. So, when we die we have this vague belief in some kind of justice for the really “bad” but the rest of us get to some happy place called “heaven”. Furthermore, many believe that the soul then flies around like a happy bird, somewhat similar to the beliefs of New Age spirituality: Eastern religious beliefs without the uncomfortable other beliefs of Hinduism or Buddhism. Those religions have their heavens and hells as well as Christians.

And the idea of “heaven” is quite vague in many minds. “Heaven” is where we have a good time, pursuing our pleasures, or being born higher up with the gods, or losing one’s self in the eternal Buddha of nothingness, or a place where one meets up with all those other “good” people – our family. In many ways, post-Christian belief in a heavenly life after death is similar to pagan beliefs: a place of comfort for the good, contentment, happiness. And so did the ancient Greeks and Romans and other cultures believe that the good rested well in Elysium wandering peacefully among the dead.

The Christian idea of Heaven is totally different from all of these. It is quite confrontational! Heaven is the one to one personal, ecstatic, vision of the very heart of God – the face to face loving relationship with Jesus, Creator of the Universe. Only those who are perfect in holiness are able to enter this state of being.

So, contemporary post-Christians are unsettled by the thought of Death, yet ignore the consequences of belief in the nature of the after-life of the soul. Well, it is very unsettling to realise that the soul after Death is open to the spiritual world, without the veil of the body. That means that the soul is open to the effects on it of all the spirits, good and bad. But more than that, the soul is open to the presence of God, and that means Judgment: is my soul “good” in God’s eyes? What we believe to be the average “good” person may well be not enough in God’s judgment. After all, the First Commandment is that one should have no other God’s than Me, in other words, the main goodness God is looking for is loving piety and humility. Does this soul have the habit and thought processes of piety, worship, and loving complete humble surrender to God, with no hint of that inner rebelliousness every human is born with. Didn’t Jesus say that the first commandment is to love God with all one’s might, strength, heart, soul, etc. Those are the qualities of a “good” person, nothing to do with being measured by what is meant by “good” in this world!

So, when a person dies, the soul is immediately judged according to the first commandment. Without love of God, the soul cannot enter heaven. It can’t change its mind.

I can imagine the kind of conversation a typical modern “good” person’s soul might have with God at Death: “I have done lots of good things in my life: looked after the sick, the poor and been kind to everyone.”

And God’s reply: “But I have called you to pray to Me, to lift up your heart to Me, to find Me in your local church, many times in your life, and you have rejected those calls in the hope that this shopping list of good works is a suitable substitution for loving Me. I am your Creator and you have consistently refused Me because in your heart of hearts you are a rebel saying ‘I will not serve’. And even those good works which you have done, were at My initiation and direction. It is the return of love in your heart for Me which I desire and died for on the Cross.”

However, many of us will die in that “grey” area of loving God but not wholeheartedly. Of dying in sorrow for one’s incomplete love of God, yet willingly surrendering oneself to God and joyful at seeing Him at last. And this kind of soul will fly towards Him in increasingly loving joy and sorrow, burning up with incomplete fulfillment of love, yet secure in knowing that soon it will possess the fullness of that union with Him.

Otherwise… Let us not contemplate the alternative possibility.

So, Death is indeed an awesome prospect and one’s life ought to be oriented to that fact, to be in a position of hope that one’s will is not so rebellious, that one’s life is directed to being open to God. That is why Catholics ceaselessly pray that Our Lady intercedes for us “now and at the moment of our Death”.

Why “at the moment”? Because that moment is when the soul comes under attack by the enemy, either by keeping it complacent in its self-sufficiency, or tempting it to hopelessness. All the wiles of the enemy are brought to bear at that moment of Death. Catholics are taught to pray for “final perseverance” and to have a “holy death”, and to receive the Last Rites by a priest, so as to dispel all and every attack by the enemy.

The finest final act is for one, at the moment of Death, to lovingly offer one’s death with God’s death on the Cross, as a loving, willing sacrifice for others, to the point that one willingly accepts even greater pains to unite oneself with Him.

So, Death loses its sting. It is defeated and becomes a source of victory. It is to be looked at as a final gateway of one’s life, the race which has been won for us. We cross the finishing line into the “humble triumph” of the Cross and the Resurrection of the Dead.

Covid-19 then is a call to prepare for and to welcome Death.

Urgent missive from Screwtape – Easter, 2019

My scrumptious Dark Flower,

I have had an urgent howl from Our Father Below, seeking the ones to blame for the recent unfortunate events over the past few months. I have traced the events to you, Dark Flower and your team.

We have been winning. Winning this great battle against the Enemy over the past few years. Hate, envy, lust, and confusion have spread like wildfire through the earth. Just look at our recent victories: we have made those horrid creatures of the Enemy substitute politics for religious belief. And then we have made politics a weapon of hate. The Russian Trump conspiracy is making Americans angry and hateful of each other; the Brexit issue is destroying the peace of England; the Gilets Jaunes issue is destroying France; the antifa and anti-immigration movements in Europe are dividing all into little pockets of hate. We even have power over the leaders of the main Christian churches: they all have interpreted the message the Enemy gave them into political and social issues. We even have a leader in the Vatican announcing that 2 + 2 could equal 5. Oh, what a victory for our team: relativism at its best.

What great victories for Our Father Below.

We have spent over 200 years convincing these miserable creatures that we do not exist, just to spite the Enemy and make all believe that we and all spiritual things are superstitious. We have made them all materialistic: all fixated on sex, gender, medicine, health, consumer spending, global warming, democratic elections, sport, and science : all filling their minds with nothing so that we may show them real suffering Nothing when they die.

And here we have you lot, impatiently desecrating and firing a few churches in Europe, which no-one noticed at the time. Other teams have tempted the destruction of Nigerian churches. We kept the media and the police quiet. But one of you, just to be smart, tempted a workman in Notre Dame to make a small accidental error in the cleaning up of the tower one night.

And what a time of the year to choose! Just when many lukewarm Catholics were slightly warming up their religious beliefs about hope, about the horrible victory our Enemy made over Our Father Below, your team made the world realize that such an event was about to be remembered. You all could have waited until later in the year.

The damage to our cause is terrible: we have those ugly creatures of the Enemy praying publicly on TV – and they are young! It would have been better if they were a bunch of old people, but no, they are young. That image on TV gave people the idea that religion is for the young and the future. Cannot you see the damage such a stupid temptation has caused. And we have the atheists falling over themselves to make repairs to our Enemy’s building.

And what is more it has revealed to many that the churches of France, our great atheist country, is ruled by atheists. People will now start asking questions about religion, a subject we do not want to be discussed, unless it is of course about corrupt priests and bishops.

And then again your team, attack the churches in Sri Lanka this Sunday. We have tried for years now to teach our marks, that other religions are “religions of peace” – non-moralistic, alternatives to the Enemy. And what do you do? Again draw attention to Christian persecution. Our Father Below is very, very angry.

This great accident has made people sympathetic and nostalgic about religion. What a great victory for Our Enemy.

Now it is imperative that you and your team get a so-called pious Catholic to retaliate by desecrating or burning another religion’s building. That will be hard: better to get some white right-wing extremist of no religious belief do it. He will already be in our camp, but Christians will be blamed.

And we must make the issue of the spire of Notre Dame a hateful debate making all forget about religion and concentrate on architecture. If one of you can get a truly ugly spire accepted then lots of damage to our Enemy will be done.

Remember, I am waiting for immediate results and I am getting hungry for a soul to devour.

Yours voraciously,

Screwtape.

The True Story of Fatima

The Three Children of Fatima

The Lady in the Light

by the Rev Father John De Marchi, IMC

1952.

Re-published by Patrimonium Publishing, 2016

[Download Kindle version: truestoryoffatima – a ‘mobi zip file’]

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction

Lucia, Francesco, Jacinta and the Marto Family

The Three Angelic Visitations

First Appearance of Our Lady

Second Appearance of Our Lady

Third Appearance of Our Lady

The Three Children Imprisoned

Fourth Appearance of Our Lady

Fifth Appearance of Our Lady

The Children Examined

Portugal Assembles for a Miracle

Sixth Appearance of Our Lady

The Miracle of the Sun

The Children Examined Again

The Cost of Heaven: Vandalism, Mockery and Persecution

The Chapel

The Cost of Heaven: Francisco’s Offering

The Cost of Heaven: Jacinta’s Offering

The Cost of Heaven: Lucia’s Offering

The First Pilgrimage Statue and Official Persecution

The Chapel Bombed

Miracles

Lucia – a Dorothean Nun

Official Recognition by the Catholic Hierarchy

APPENDIX

I – Letter of Dr Mendes, September 1917

II – Masonic Notice

III – Letter from Lucia, July 1927

IV – The Secret of Fatima

V – Papal Consecration of Russia, July 1952

VI – Analysis of Miracle of Sun

VII – Lucia’s First Communion

VIII – The Seventh Apparition

IX – Erroneous Version of Events

X – The “Unknown Light” – the Extraordinary Aurora of 1938

XI – Father Ferreira’s Defence

XII – The First and Second Secrets

XIII – The Third Secret

The Afterlife: Heaven, Hell or other?

Our Modern Age seems to have a very vague sense of the afterlife: most of us definitely do not want to even think about it. When we do, it is when someone close to us dies, a friend dies, a child dies … and we hear vague statements about the deceased somehow in some way surviving in some kind of afterlife.

It doesn’t really matter that we see ourselves as atheists, but more probably, agnostics – God doesn’t come into it. We still have this “hope” that something of ourselves survives death: as a soul, as a bird, as a star, part of a rainbow, a something more than a memory, a sort of angel or fairy thingey.

Those intimations are indeed from the vast store of mankind’s beliefs since time began! Every race, religion, tribe, clan, kingdom, civilisation, believed in some kind of afterlife, even the caveman. One of the oldest remains of the most ancient grave sites of pre-historic man had grave goods as part of his and her burial – goods to accompany the dead on their journey to the afterlife.

There are common strands in mankind’s beliefs about the afterlife: a place of punishment and reward, a land of shadows, where there is some connexion between the living and the dead, some kind of journey takes place, and there is final destination determined by one’s actions while alive.

This place of the afterlife is called by many names: Hades to the Greeks and Romans, Sheol to the Jews, and the names of the various “heavens” and “hells” in Buddhism and Hinduism, “happy hunting grounds” of the North American Indians, the home of the ancestors in very many cultures, etc. In both China and Japan there is a very deep connexion between the ancestors and one’s family. Traditional beliefs entailed the idea that there remains some kind of real connexion between the living and the dead.

As an aside here: Buddhism has become an alternative belief for many non-religious Moderns – quiet meditation, a take-it-or-leave-it disciplined way of life, a set of non-threatening moral commands, and an end in eternal bliss. Yet how disturbing it is to see paintings in Thailand of the tortures in the Buddhist Hell – the absolute horrors of the damned – those who break the traditional natural laws common to mankind. And then to look back and examine the very real strictures of traditional Buddhism in contrast to the cafeteria Buddhism of Moderns.

Together with these common traditional beliefs about the afterlife, is the common need by the traditional bereaved to help the dead on their journey by prayers and grave gifts for sustenance for the trip. Traditional rituals also made the very necessary sacrifice of an animal or precious thing to mollify the spirits in charge of the departed.

It is natural to mankind to believe in an afterlife of some kind. Modern confusion comes from the decline of Christianity in the Western world, the separation of modern people from their traditional cultures which gave a secure understanding of death and the afterlife, and the growth of religious agnosticism, which has cast modern man adrift at the very time in his life when he confronts the “fact” of death.

What happens is that the death event calls up one’s own standing to one’s religious beliefs – guilt generally – a determined running away from anything resembling “superstition” (after all, we are progressive, scientific people), but then the need also to handle the huge impact death has on our lives.

After all, the fact of death is the most confronting, truly terrible event in our lives. There is no avoiding the fact. This fear of “nothingness” or the fear of the totally unknown experience or the fear of losing one’s body is truly a terrible event. Even to those who believe in an afterlife: death is the tearing of one’s body away from the person. “I, the me, the identity, may indeed survive, but there is no way that whatever comes next, will ever be the same, without my body, the physical expression of what makes me a human being!” Such grief there is in the prospect of one’s own death or that of a loved one. One will never be in that experienced relationship ever … ever again. What a loss!

“Heaven”?
And so, we mix up a whole vague set of ideas to make us comfortable. Some vague sense of Heaven is mentioned. We need to feel that our loved one is happy in some way, and so we talk about “heaven”. But what or where is “heaven”.

Traditional non-Christian heaven is totally unlike Christian heaven. The trouble is that modern man mixes up the bits of the Christian heaven with bits of the old heavens of the past. So, lets get things straightened out!

Yes, indeed, in the non-Christian traditional heaven,a good person who dies, an innocent child who dies, may indeed go to a place of happiness – a happiness of light and beauty, a gentle refreshment of “heart” and soul. The person is rewarded by the demands of justice riding through the universe that good shall be rewarded and evil punished. There is no escaping the demands of justice, otherwise life on earth is totally meaningless: anyone can do anything evil they like and get away with it at death! Those agnostics who thirst for justice in the modern progressive thrust of political debate, who are the first to speak out about the obvious injustices of this world, must then by logic demand that justice be done, otherwise their words are just pointless! And so, nature demands justice! it is part of our DNA. If not in this life then in the next, Justice will come: the good are rewarded and the evil are punished.

Justice demands punishment, the “law of Karma” or the Natural Law, or the “Tao” of the East, is written in our conscience, governs the universe, nature demands reward and punishment. Those who need punishment are sent further “down” the levels of a Hades or Sheol; those who are the just are sent further “up”.

Where does the idea of forgiveness, and softness regarding death?

We all fail by the demands of Justice. The traditional “heaven” looks to be filled only with the souls of the very young and the souls of the few “just” men and women.

And so, we mix in Christian belief in the forgiveness of sins (from out of thin air!), and the old traditional belief of heaven, leaving a vague sense of everything being all right after all – no need for sorrow except for the personal loss of relationship, and a vague hope that we will see or be with our loved one again in some way or another.

The Christian heaven is totally beyond such naturalistic traditional beliefs. The Christian belief is that we are called to be perfect, to be with God Himself, to become God-like, to share the vision of the intensity of the love of Almighty God, God about Whom it is said: “To see God is to die!” – a vision so beyond imagining. More frightening than Death itself! More frightening if not for Love itself. If we are not perfect and full of Love when we die, we, if willing, will be made lovingly perfect – a very, very painful but loving process for most of us. And finally, we will have our bodies back, glorified, “super-bodies” physically and joyfully, ecstatically, in touch with our loving families, and friends.

The Christian heaven is nothing like the traditional belief in some “heavenly” after-life. No place of relative peace and happiness, of those demeaning images of playing harps, but a thrusting into a full personal facing-up to and with God Himself. And the so-called “forgiveness of sins” that we so magically call up to comfort us at the thought of death, comes at a price! Justice dying at the hands of Injustice for Mercy’s sake: a price we are all called to pay.

So, us Moderns scramble around avoiding the confrontation which death brings concomitant with religious belief. We end up “celebrating” the life of the deceased, but not giving them what they may desperately need – prayers to help them on their way. To pray for them and to make sacrifices, would entail belief in some kind of invisible authority above us. Even many Christian funeral rituals have mainly succumbed to the modern need to celebrate a life rather than to mollify the guardians of the souls.

To avoid such religious complications, we mix in a little reincarnation here or a little New Age Spiritualism here: the deceased becomes a bird, a fairy, a sparkling thought, and maybe even a little angel. But real connexion? We avoid the very real connexion with the deceased soul, spirit, a real being – good or bad – who we may pray to (to talk entreatingly with), who may pray for us, may hear our prayers, and may silently be present in our daily lives. Traditional beliefs firm up these connexions.

But we Moderns honour them with a photo as a reminder to ourselves, but avoid their presence in our continuing lives just at the time when we most desperately need them, in case that entails the supposed “silliness” of ghosts, goblins, and “spirits”.

For all others, except us Moderns, the whole event of death and the process afterwards is accompanied with age-old ritual which encompasses the whole nature of man and the very general sensible beliefs about the afterlife and death. It is still of great comfort to the dead to visit the grave site and lay flowers, gifts of life, not just as a memory, but a real reaching out to the dead – “I am here, dear. I am with you. Pray for me.”

And so sad this all is – this Modernity, this creeping atheism, a world of nothingness, of nothing good nor evil. If the traditional belief in an afterlife is true – that there is some real justice in the Universe; that there is some final meaning somewhere – then many of us Moderns who die are drastically missing out on the prayers and the sacrifices which are needed to accompany us and to sustain us after death.

Thankfully there are many still who offer those prayers and sacrifices for us all, including the Moderns.