On Life and Death (E.J.Tyler)
1. The ultimate issues of life
As we pass through life it is of the utmost importance that we come to understand the ultimate issues, and at the very least identify what they are. Many people do not attain this explicit perception, and so pass from year to year striving for things that ultimately are ephemeral and lacking in importance. We have to make choices, and willy-nilly we shall be working for one thing or another. Since that is so, let us resolve to work for what is important, because our life will derive its significance from the importance of the things we choose and work for.
The ultimate issue of life and one that is played out each day in the life of individuals and societies is the struggle between good and evil. It is a struggle that began in heaven itself. It also appeared at the very dawn of human history when evil won a notable and most significant victory. It reached its climax in the drama of our Lord's life when good won an overwhelming victory of eternal significance. It continues to be played out now and will continue to the end of time when, whatever be the victories of evil, good will gain its triumph and evil will be conquered finally. This will be due to the victory of good in Christ. So we know in advance the final upshot because it has been revealed. It is of the utmost importance that in our life we gather with Christ because those who do not gather with him will be scattered.
As we read in the book of the Apocalypse the opening round of this great and ultimate struggle began in heaven itself, the abode of God. The book of the Apocalypse tells us that 'war broke out in heaven, when Michael and his angels attacked the dragon. The dragon fought back with his angels but they wee defeated and driven out of heaven.' Some angels had refused obedience to God and to the good, and a struggle ensued with those who chose for God. They accepted his will. We know that God and those who are with and in God, accepting his will and obeying his commandments as they are revealed by Christ and his body the Church, will gain the ultimate victory.
These are the ultimate issues of life and they are played out each day in the lives of all of us because all of us have been given intellect, the power of choice, and a conscience. Life is short and eternity long, so we must use every day to gain the victory. The angels are our friends by their example, by their prayers on our behalf before God, and by their active assistance (in God) to us over the course of our life. Let us make the choice they made, calling on their help and their prayers, so that we may reign with them forever in heaven.
2. The fact of death
From time immemorial death has been perceived as mankind’s ultimate enemy. Mysterious, inexorable, it overtakes every person and indeed every living thing. Considered as an enemy of life, it always has the advantage for it will eventually overcome. Man can prepare for it, and perhaps keep it temporarily at bay, but he cannot prevent its inevitable coming. Sooner or later it strikes its final blow and often without warning, and when it arrives the loss is great. We remember the loss experienced by Mary the mother of the Lord, looking on her Son dead on the Cross. Simeon had predicted that a sword would be driven into her very soul.
However, the Christian knows that there is far more to the fundamental realities of life than what life naturally presents. The true light on life comes from Christ, and this light is granted to us when we deliberately accept Christ as the Master, and do so in every possible respect, without conditions, no matter might be the cost. For the Christian who has deliberately chosen Christ as Master and light and guide the key to life and death is living and dying in union with Christ. When someone we know has lived in this way that person’s passing involves a special loss. When any great gift is enjoyed over a long period of time, it becomes part and parcel of life. Indeed, it can be that life is rarely imagined without it. But if it is suddenly withdrawn, its loss brings a new and profound appreciation of the gift. It is newly discovered what a blessing it was over all those years. What will life be without it? So it is with the passing of someone we knew who was a true Christian. That person was a gift to us which we find hard to imagine being without. But in a case such as this our thoughts also rise in gratitude and praise to the source of every good gift, God, God the most holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Loss mingles with gratitude and praise, for life need not have been blessed the way it was. It was God’s gift that life was so marked by the presence and qualities of one who has passed on and for this we thank and praise him. And this is a true source of joy, that God in his merciful goodness deigned to bless the lives of many with the gift of the one who is gone.
3. The goodness and mercy of God
God is thus revealed as a good God, a God rich in mercy, one who can be utterly trusted despite what may appear. So when we think of the loss of someone dear to us who was at the same time a true Christian let us praise and thank God for his goodness to us. Let us entrust ourselves to his mercy, and resolve to cooperate with him in seeking goodness of life, the goodness which comes from having Christ as our Master in all respects. If it has been our good fortune in life to have known and profoundly touched by a good Christian life, then we ought let our minds and hearts rise to God in thanks and praise to him, asking him as well to help us to know Christ and to love and follow him as true disciples who follow the Master. Whatever be the blessing which is withdrawn in life, the Christian thanks and praises God for the blessing, and finds rest then in God himself as the source of past, present and all blessings still to come, either here or hereafter, provided we cleave to him.
The loss of one who has died is a very real loss. The much loved one who has died has gone from sight. Gone from sight, yes, but not gone. Gone from our sight and our hearing and from our touch, yes, but not gone. In this too the Christian knows that the appearances do not reveal the ultimate reality, for this world alone is not the ultimate reality. Rather, the reality is as Christ has revealed it. The reality is that the Christian lives and dies in Christ, and this is the common bond and life between all Christians. Our first connection, if we are in the state of grace, is with the person of Christ for we share his life. This is the common and fundamental connection each and every member of the Church has. It is with Christ as branches of the vine. Christ is the vine, the Father is the vinedresser, and we are the branches. And so we are all directly linked with one another because of our direct link with the person of Christ. There is a profound communion between all of us because of this, a communion which nothing can interfere with, neither death nor life. The communion between those who have gone and those still here is direct. The link is very real. It stems from our common union with Christ.
4. Remaining in union with Christ
How important then is it that we remain in union with Christ. And so those still here can know and feel close to the one who has gone, and can continue to know this for as long as life passes, and each can help the other on the way to the final reunion. The one here on earth can help by praying for the one who has gone because the one who has gone cannot gain any further merit. All that remains is the God-given purification in purgatory, and through our prayers, masses and penances, through our gaining of indulgences whether partial or plenary, we can hasten the loved one’s entry into heaven. So let us continue to pray for the repose of the souls of those who have died. On their part, those in Purgatory, while not able to merit further themselves, can pray for us, and Christ through our common connection with him, passes on our prayers and benefits one to the other. This is the great doctrine of the communion of saints, the deep communion that exists between those who are in Christ, whether they be here, or in heaven, or preparing for heaven in purgatory.
How important it is then that we be in union with Christ, and that we strive to increase this union! What a tragedy if we pass through life making no attempt to live in union with Christ and his Church.