Sunday, June 28, 2015

Three False Beliefs about Death—and Their Antidote

(Thirteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on June 28, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Wisdom 1: 13-15; 2: 23-24; Psalm 30; Mark 5: 21-43.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirteenth Sunday 2015]

What we believe about death directly affects what we believe about life.

Perhaps you’ve never made that association before, but it’s true nonetheless. 

This means that if we have the right perspective on death—a perspective that’s rooted in the truths of Sacred Scripture and our Catholic faith—we will also have a healthy perspective on life.  We will understand the purpose of life, the meaning of life, the value of life—and the sacredness of life.

And we will probably act accordingly—at least most of the time.

On the other hand, if we have the wrong perspective on death, we will, in all likelihood, understand none of those things.  And that will have a negative impact on how we act: on how we treat our neighbor, and on how we treat ourselves.

To illustrate this let me share with you now three common errors—three common false beliefs—about death, and how those beliefs affect people’s actions.

False belief #1 concerning death: God is to blame for it.  He’s the cause of it.  He’s the source of death; it comes directly from him.

Now if you believe that (and many people today do!), I ask you: How likely will you be to love God and serve God and obey God in your life?

Not very!

You’ll want nothing to do with him!  You’ll look at God as your enemy—as the source of evil—as the ultimate killjoy who gets his jollies out of taking from you the people you love.

This is the false belief about death that was directly addressed in our first reading today, which was taken from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom.  Listen again to these words:
God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.  For he fashioned all things that they might have being … For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him.  But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world …
Our God is the Lord and Giver of life; he’s not the “dealer of death”!  Death came into the world when sin came into the world through our first parents.  So it was ultimately the work of the devil.

And it’s the eternal effects of that sin of Adam and Eve which Jesus came into the world to eliminate by his passion, death and resurrection.

Believing that God loves us so much that he sent his only begotten Son to do this for us—to save us from eternal death—will cause a person to see God as he really is: a Friend and a Savior, not an enemy.

Which brings us to false belief #2 concerning death: We should have absolute control over it as human beings.  People who believe that support things like physician-assisted suicide and the so-called “right-to-die”—which, by the way, sooner or later becomes the duty-to-die!  This came home to me in a powerful way when I read an online article recently by Michael Brendan Dougherty concerning the current situation in Belgium, where physician-assisted suicide has been legal for quite some time.  In that article, Dougherty wrote the following:   
And chillingly, doctors pressure patients into making the decision. One doctor, who performs euthanasia eight to 10 times a year, told [writer Rachel] Aviv, “Depending on communication techniques, I might lead a patient one way or the other.”
How could it be otherwise? The idea that suicide, alone among medical treatments, would solely be the patient's decision, absent any social or financial pressure from a doctor, was always a fiction. Doctors are in the business of advising and steering patients toward recommended treatments. That’s precisely why suicide should not be a treatment, and certainly not one offered to people who aren't ill. (“How Belgium went down the slippery slope of assisted suicide,” The Week, June 18, 2015.)
Today’s gospel story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead reminds us that God—and only God—is the Lord of life (as we say in the Nicene Creed each week at Mass).  And so only he should determine the exact moment when we leave this earthly existence.

I should also mention here that this false belief that people should have absolute control over death sometimes extends beyond the self, to others.

That’s why some doctors perform abortions, and why ISIS terrorists and South Carolina racists kill innocent people who’ve done nothing wrong.  They want absolute control over the deaths of other human beings.

What a person believes about death directly affects what that person believes about life—their own life AND the lives of others.

The third and final false belief about death that I’ll mention today is this one: It’s the end; it’s the final chapter of a human life.

With atheism becoming more and more prevalent in our world (at least according to the news polls), this error is obviously becoming more and more widespread; which is scary because, as the Russian author Dostoevsky once said, “If God does not exist, EVERYTHING is permissible.”

Including things that you and I—and a lot of other civilized people—would find repugnant and reprehensible.  Think about it, my brothers and sisters: if there is no Judgment, and no final moral Authority in this earthly life, then right and wrong become matters of opinion and opinion only. 

Your ideas about right and wrong are just that: they’re your ideas.  Others have their ideas about those very same issues, and you have no valid reason for saying that their ideas are wrong.  You can make your own rules, and live by your own rules; because death is the end, and there’s no one to whom you will have to answer afterward for your actions.

Doesn’t this make you glad you’re a Catholic Christian?

It should!

It makes me glad—and thankful—because Catholic Christianity is the antidote to all of these false beliefs about death!  Every single one of them.  Our faith tells us, first of all, that physical death is not the end.  Quite to the contrary, Catholic Christianity tells us that the physical death of the body is actually a new beginning—and potentially a glorious one!  It tells us that this life matters; that we’re here for a reason; that there’s something at stake in this mortal existence.  It tells us that we’re really here on this earth to make a decision: THE DECISION—the ultimate decision about where we want to live for all eternity.

And it tells us how to make the correct ultimate decision so that we will eventually arrive at the place we were made for.  It tells us that we make this decision by following the Lord—the Lord of life—until he chooses, in his time, to call us home.