Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Death

Books and the Lenten Journey

ash-wednesday-scripture-5Happy Ash Wednesday! Last evening my family celebrated Shrove Tuesday by having breakfast for dinner.  I must say that Hannah’s King’s Cake stole the show again this year.

As usual, there are always questions about fasting and abstinence once we enter Lent. Here is an abstinence explanation, “What’s Up with the Whole Friday Abstinence Thing?” for the studious out there. Fasting has also been part of our blessed Tradition. Here is a quick explanation on the why of fasting, “Vivifying our Spiritual Senses.”

I have also received a number of requests concerning some of my favorites books for Lent. So, I thought that I would list out a few books that have been helpful during my Lenten meditation and retreat:

  1. The Sadness of Christ – St. Thomas More
  2. Lukewarmness: The Devil in Disguise – Francis Fernandez Carvajal
  3. The Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell – Fr. Martin von Cochem
  4. Unseen Warfare – Lorenzo Scupoli, Theophan the Recluse and Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain
  5. In Silence with God – Fr. Benedict Baur
  6. A Doctor at Calvary: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ As Described by a Surgeon – Pierre Barbet
  7. Life of Christ – Venerable Fulton Sheen
  8. The Ladder of Divine Ascent – St. John Climacus
  9. Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence – Fr. Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure
  10. Benedict and St. Therese: The Little Rule & The Little Way – Fr. Dwight Longenecker

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Considering the Penalty Box…

skull chalicePersonally, I love All Souls Day (November 2). It is a constant reminder that I am mortal and that my end is approaching (possibly quicker than I imagine if I continue to eat these blasted candy corns). Some may consider this morbid but consider the Christian point of view.

For the Christian,

Death is a consequence of sin. The Church’s Magisterium, as authentic interpreter of the affirmations of Scripture and Tradition, teaches that death entered the world on account of man’s sin. Even though man’s nature is mortal God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator and entered the world as a consequence of sin. “Bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned” is thus “the last enemy” of man left to be conquered. (CCC1008) [Emphasis mine]

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The Song of the Martyrs

This Saturday my wife and I viewed the movie, Of Gods and Men. For those who are unaware, the basic premise of the movie/documentary is that:

Under threat by fundamentalist terrorists, a group of Trappist monks stationed with an impoverished Algerian community must decide whether to leave or stay. (Source: IMDB)

The movie was outstanding. It portrayed the deep inner-struggle and triumph of each of the Trappists as they individually and corporately made the decision to remain at the monastery under the constant threat of death. As the conflict with the terrorists and the army continued, it became very clear that the death of the monks were inevitable.

For those who know little about the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, or Trappists as they are better known, they are monks who life a live of prayer and work according to a strict observance of the Benedictine Rule. Foundational to the rule is that they enter the monastery to lose ones self only to recover it living in community. In this way, they will be perfected by the community.

To me, the deciding moment in the movie was when the Abbot and a brother monk were meeting with the local village leaders (Muslim). During the conversation, the monks mentioned that they may be leaving using the allusion that they were birds on a branch – always ready to continue on their journey. At this point, one of the village leaders spoke up and said,

You are the branch, we are the birds.

This moment was deafening. It became clear that the non-Catholic village existed because of the presence and stability of the monastery. The monastery were the life-source for the region. As each of the characters developed, we discovered their deep abiding love for the Lord of love.

In every movie, I am always looking for that thread which keeps the unity of the movie and provides a tether for the sequential events. The golden thread in Of Gods and Men was provided in a most masterful way by the Director, Xavier Beauvois. To see the thread we need to understand that the core of the movie was the deep emotional and spiritual struggle of the individual and the community dealing with the reality of death. They each had to face their inner-most fears and desires. Like all of us,

From the abundance of the heart does the mouth speak. (Matthew 12:34)

As the movie unfolds, we witness the evolving single-mindedness of the community. What was so masterful was how it demonstrated the unity. This evolving unity was demonstrated through their chant.

Time throughout the movie was shown through the chant and liturgies. At the beginning of the movie, while the chant was beautiful, there was an evident dissonance in the chant (You figure that there is always one with a bad voice right?). But, by the end of the movie, when all the monks had freely chosen to stay and wrestled through their own spiritual dark night of the soul, the chant resounded with such harmonious beauty it brought to my mind Psalms 133:1:

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

Fr. Basil Cole, OP in his book on Music and Morals says that you can discern the health of a society by its music – especially of the youth. The same could be said of chant and monks.

Additionally, Beauvois did a fantastic job of weaving a parallel story of the life of Christ while telling the story of these martyr-monks. Their final meal was taken together with bread and wine, somewhat picturesque of Divinci’s Last Supper but without Judas. IN the background was teh last movement of Swan Lake. Amidst their tears, for they knew what was coming, were smiles of joy because they were together. Then, in the middle of the night, they were arrested and taken away. They were forced to identify who they were and in the morning, like our Lord, were led up a hill journeying to their own personal Calvary). It also did not escape my attention my attention that they were walking through snow even though they were executed in May. The Scripture that came to mind was,

Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

I hope this movie was an accurate account of the life of these monks. If it is, I believe we will see a martyr canonization in our future. There is much more but I refuse to ruin the movie for you.

I would highly recommend this movie as a phenomenal Lenten meditation. Absolutely glorious!

Today, We Honor You Who Faithfully Intercede for Us

I credit my conversion and love of Scripture to my paternal grandmother whose heart belonged to the Mystical Rose of heaven. Today, on the Feast of All Souls, I will be remembering her and all those who have gone before me and continue to cheer me on to the finish line. I would like to honor three of them this afternoon.

My grandmother, Margaret Alfong Silva, was raised Buddhist in Honolulu Hawai’i. At age thirteen, she was walking past St. Therese’s church when she heard singing and went into the Church to investigate. As the story goes, the priest shared the gospel and she soon converted. Through her example, the majority of her family converted to Catholicism within a year or two. I have no memory of her without a Bible in one hand and a Rosary in the other. Even when she slept, the Holy Writ was pressed close to her heart. She is the one who taught me to pray the Rosary and to devote myself to the suffrage of the dead. Every Sunday we went to the cemetery where my grandfather, Manuel Marques Silva, was buried to pray and provide new flowers. I think her devotion in remembering the dead is deeply rooted in the Asian culture which was sanctified when she became Catholic.

Another individual I will remember today is Christy Ann Chronowski. In high school, she, and her two sisters Franny and Caroline, made me part of their family. I am not clear how it happened but suddenly I was part of their family and shared in all the benefits of having more siblings and a holy set of adopted parents. Christy and I went to high school and then college together. She was one of those rare souls that from an early age was on the fast-track to sanctity. In 1990, I remember sitting in her living room listening to and praying with her as she offered herself completely to the Lord for His glory – body and soul. Later that year she was diagnosed with cancer. Still, nothing deterred her from her love and faithfulness to Christ and His bride the Church. One day, when I called to check on her, she shared that she didn’t realize how vain she was until her hair was shaved off and then subsequently fell out due to her treatments. Even as she lay dying, she ministered to numerous priests and laity alike. Unfortunately, she succumbed to cancer in 1993.  Christy taught me to unfailingly oppose compromise in this life. Truth is essential. She taught me that charity does not exclude truth but only exists in its presence. Most of all, I experienced a love of an older sister who had no problem putting me in my place when needed it – thanks Christy.  I continue to ask my sister in heaven to intercede for me and I hope to join her one day. I figure she will have a better view of our Lord but frankly, I will be happy to be there.

Msgr. James McMutrie, priest of the Diocese of Arlington, may he rest in peace, was an Irishman that you either loved or loved to hate. There was no in-between. He has played a center role  in my life and I pray that he continues to do so until the Lord calls me home. On October 20, 1983, I was diagnosed with Epilepsy. At the time, I was having more than 10 grand mal seizures a night. Due to the physical abuse I was taking in the halls from my peers and the fact that several of my instructors did not want a “freak” in their class, he moved me from Lake Braddock to Holy Spirit (which we couldn’t afford0 in eighth grade.  Since we had no way of paying at the time the Principle told us to take a walk. He he sat down with her and assisted her in discerning her career options and became the benefactor for me. Needless to say, I was in class the next morning. Due to my medication regiment, have few memories of 1983/1984. However, I unfortunately do remember one evening when the medication-induced hallucinations became so bad that I saw the floor in my room disappear. In its place were flames and faces on my bedroom walls shouting obscenities at me. My father rescued me from that terror and I earn a stay at Georgetown. As you might expect, I refused to enter my room from that point forward. After six months, Monsignor came to the house and sent everyone away except the two of us. He prayed that the devil would be gone from that room and then blessed the walls and floor with holy water. After about an hour of coaxing, I entered my room again to stay. A month later he took me to a Mass and healing service celebrated by Fr. Ralph DiOrio. From that day forward, I stopped taking my medication cold-turkey and never had another seizure. Monsignor made sure that I went to Paul VI at which time, during my Sophemore year, I met the instructor who evangelize me and the rest is history. He had such an influence on me that my wife and I made him Nicholas’ godfather. As he was my oldest son’s godfather in life so too does he intercede for him in death.

There are many more beloved souls that have continued to assist me in my family’s pursuit of holiness. How about you? Who are the souls that have gone before you and assisted you in your pilgrimage to the Eternal City?  We would love to hear about them here at the Q Continuum. Until then,

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithfully departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen!

In Service of a Bishop

Deacons are ordained to be a Bishop’s “eyes and ears” within the particular church. While a priest is tied to an altar, a Deacon is tied to a diocese and in a special way, his Bishop and all his successors.

As an individual who is a huge fan of Cardinal Newman and a candidate for diaconal ordination in January 2011, the following story caught my attention. Here we have a Deacon still serving a Bishop – even in death.

Healed Deacon to Assist at Newman Beatification

BIRMINGHAM, England ( – The deacon who was miraculously healed thanks to the intercession of Cardinal John Henry Newman will serve at the papal Mass when the cardinal is beatified.

Deacon Jack Sullivan of the Archdiocese of Boston was healed of a spinal disorder after he asked for Cardinal Newman’s intercession.

At Benedict XVI’s Mass in Birmingham on Sept. 19 for the English cardinal’s beatification, Deacon Sullivan will proclaim the Gospel and serve the Mass as deacon.

Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham told the Catholic Herald that recognizing Cardinal Newman’s intercession will be at the heart of the beatification.

“We can speak about prayer to the saints as part of the life of the Church,” he said. “We feel a closeness to those who are part of the communion of the saints.”

The archbishop noted that he recently met Deacon Sullivan, and will be hosting the deacon, his wife and members of their family as his personal guests.

Archbishop Longley also suggested that the beatification is one of the main reasons Benedict XVI decided to travel to the United Kingdom.

Special Blog: Burial vs. Cremation

This is a special post to assist a friend who unfortunately is with family burying their cousin.  The question was asked, “Why does the Catholic Church prefer burial over cremation?”

In order to understand inhumation (traditional burial) and cremation, we need to understand how the Church views the human person and resurrection of the body.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) will assist us in our discussion.

Due to resurgences in the ancient heresy of Manichaeism, it is a common misconception, that the body is a container that holds or traps the spirit.  Moreover, many believe that there is no need for the body or the soul.  This Gnostic teaching devalues the body and elevates the soul or spirit as if the human person is an angelic being.  In contrast, it has been the consistent teaching of the Church that the soul is who you are while the body is the instrument by which we express ourselves:

Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.[1]

To separate the body from the soul is an abomination that occurred through original sin:

The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body:[2] i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature. (CCC §365)

A person is not truly “human” without his or her body. A human soul without its body has no way of learning or experiencing/perceiving the physical world for it has no senses.  The body therefore is an integral part of who and what we are – two realities that cannot be separated.

The Christian belief in the resurrection is central to her teachings (CCC §991). Additionally,

“The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.” (CCC § 366)

Again, the CCC §364 states,

“The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit.”

And finally, CCC §2300 says,

“The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection.”

Still, even after death the body is of vital importance defining who we are.  The resurrection is the divine reconciliation to the problem of bodily separation won by the Christ on Easter Sunday.

There was a time during Church history that cremation was not allowed for Christian burial.  The challenge the Church had (has) is not so much with cremation but with the reasoning behind those who wanted to be cremated.

In his book Questions and Answers, Father John Dietzen explains “the first general legislation banning the burning of bodies as a funeral rite burning of bodies as a funeral rite came from the Vatican’s Holy Office in May 1886, noting the anti-religious and Masonic motivation behind the movement. The 1918 Code of Canon Law continued that ban because cremation was still considered a flagrant rejection of the Christian belief in immortality and the resurrection.”  Exceptions were made in the code for urgent crises that arose from plagues, epidemics and wars.

Fr. Dietzen also mentioned that the Holy Office in 1926 shared that there are times that cremation may be desirable due to, “financial, emotional, hygienic, and others.  It presumes that people who request cremation are doing so in good faith, not out of some irreligious motive.”

For these reasons, the Church encourages burial over cremation.  The sanctity of the body in life remains even in death.  It is through the daily experience of the body that virtue is achieved and holiness is received through the Holy Spirit.

[1] Gaudium et Spes 14 § 1; cf. Daniel 3:57-80.

[2] Cf. Council of Vienne (1312): Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum (DS) 902.

Jesus the Christ Conqueror of Death (Easter Part II)

by St. Ephrem, Deacon Early Church Father & Doctor of the Church

[This excerpt from a powerful Eastertide homily from fourth-century Church Father Saint Ephrem (Sermo de Domino Nostro, 3-4, 9: Opera edit. Lamy, 1, 152-158, 166-168) is used in the Roman Catholic Office of Readings for Friday of the Third week of Easter with the accompanying biblical reading of Revelation 10:1-11).]

Death trampled our Lord underfoot, but he in his turn treated death as a highroad for his own feet. He submitted to it, enduring it willingly, because by this means he would be able to destroy death in spite of itself. Death had its own way when our Lord went out from Jerusalem carrying his cross; but when by a loud cry from that cross he summoned the dead from the underworld, death was powerless to prevent it.

Death slew him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. Concealed beneath the cloak of his manhood, his godhead engaged death in combat; but in slaying our Lord, death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural human life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of man.

Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body, neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh; and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strong-room and scattered all its treasure.

At length he came upon Eve, the mother of all the living. She was that vineyard whose enclosure her own hands had enabled death to violate, so that she could taste its fruit; thus the mother of all the living became the source of death for every living creature. But in her stead Mary grew up, a new vine in place of the old. Christ, the new life, dwelt within her. When death, with its customary impudence, came foraging for her mortal fruit, it encountered its own destruction in the hidden life that fruit contained. All unsuspecting, it swallowed him up, and in so doing released life itself and set free a multitude of men.

He who was also the carpenter’s glorious son set up his cross above death’s all-consuming jaws, and led the human race into the dwelling place of life. Since a tree had brought about the downfall of mankind, it was upon a tree that mankind crossed over to the realm of life. Bitter was the branch that had once been grafted upon that ancient tree, but sweet the young shoot that has now been grafted in, the shoot in which we are meant to recognise the Lord whom no creature can resist.

We give glory to you, Lord, who raised up your cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living. We give glory to you who put on the body of a single mortal man and made it the source of life for every other mortal man. You are incontestably alive. Your murderers sowed your living body in the earth as farmers sow grain, but it sprang up and yielded an abundant harvest of men raised from the dead.

Come then, my brothers and sisters, let us offer our Lord the great and all-embracing sacrifice of our love, pouring out our treasury of hymns and prayers before him who offered his cross in sacrifice to God for the enrichment of us all.

The Peacock & Christian Contemplation

Peacock with full train exposed.

From antiquity, the peacock has been a consistent object of Christian symbolism and meditation. In the Old Testament, the peacock was a symbol of King Solomon’s wealth and prosperity (1 Kings 10:22).

Mystics have likewise found the fowl a rich source of meditation and Christian inspiration.  The ancients clearly saw in the intricate patterns of the peacock’s train the hand of the Divine Artist who’s attention to detail revealed the Artist’s unmatched handiwork.  Looking closer at the train, the eye shaped pattern in the feathers have also been a symbol of the Father’s all-seeing eye or omniscience.[1]

Like the eagle, when a peacock molts, the feathers that return are even more magnificent than the prior.  This quickly became a natural symbol of the resurrection.  The hardness of the flesh also lead some to believe that the peacock was impervious to decay.  St. Augustine in his work, City of God (Book 21 Chapter 4), shares a story of how he kept a piece of peacock that was served to him at dinner in order to run an experiment.  Augustine had the flesh set aside for 30 days, inspecting each week, to discover that the flesh neither decayed or emitted any putrid scents related to decay.  In fact, a year later he shares that while the flesh had shriveled in size, it still emitted no odor or showed signs of normal decay – husbands, don’t try this at home!

At Christian grave sites the peacock was a frequent symbol.  To this day, when investigating the catacombs, this ancient symbol is still preserved even though the mortal remains of our ancestors have wasted away.

[1] Mike Aquilina, Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols, (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor 2008) 72

Ash Wednesday: Memento Mori!

Remember Death.  This is the ancient form of the more recent formula, “Remember O man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return!” as the ashes are being distributed.  This invocation typically is suppose to remind us of our eventual death due to the effects of Original Sin.  That being said, there is an even more ancient tradition that we should consider during this Lenten season.

Tertullian, in his work entitled, Apologeticus, shares that “Memento Mori! was whispered in the ear of the conquering general by his servant in ancient Rome.  This was to remind the general that while he celebrates his victory and is acclaimed by the people, that he is still a man and he will one day succumb to death.

We many times need to be reminded during Lent that we are meant for more than just death.  Christ is our victory!  As we enter into battle against the flesh, world and the devil during our Lenten exercises, our strength comes from the victory of the cross.  It is the apparent humiliation and finality of the cross that the world looks views.  The Christian, however, sees the cross as the consummation of the Bridegroom with His Bride the Church.  Here the Church is born, the wedding vows are actualized, the marriage becomes eternal.

This Lent let us remember that we are “more than conquerors” in Christ, the Captain of our Salvation (Hebrews 2:8-10)  and that His death on the cross has gained us our eternal reward.

Philippe de Champaigne's Vanitas (c. 1671) is reduced to three essentials: Life, Death, and Time