By Wilson Gavin
For centuries, it was said that the young do not fear death. Today, that old adage has lost all meaning. The typical Millennial is more afraid of the spectre of death than his great grandmother. Not only does he fear it, but he refuses to acknowledge its presence. It’s the ultimate ‘no-go’ zone.
This is a trend that has been in the making for a very long time; I daresay that it began with the middle class insistence on turning death into something comfortably bourgeois by rechristening it as “passing away”. It is a very polite euphemism, but not entirely true; the world may pass away, but the dead stay with us.
Mary Rogers’ Funeral
Last year I attended two funerals. One was for an elderly woman at my parish. Her twin sister and lifelong companion had died a few years before; she had lived her twilight years in solitude. She had no family, and all her friends had died. I am very glad that I can remember her name; it was shared by the famous muse of Edgar Allan Poe.
The priest at Mass the previous Sunday had asked for people to attend her funeral; a handful of us did. The hymns were traditional; the eulogy given by the Methodist daughter of an old friend.
I cried, not out of a sense of loss, but of sadness. Only a dozen people had assembled to bid her farewell. But the homily of the priest managed to dispel all sadness. In her last few years, this woman had seen death as the ultimate release. He said that she had prayed for it every day, offering up continually her loneliness and suffering. By the time death came for her, she saw it as a gift, not anything to fear.
A priest above and beyond the call of duty
The other funeral was for a prominent priest, a man who had exorcised demons, restored the Latin Mass to our diocese, and educated a Prime Minister and an Archbishop. He had suffered a stroke whilst saying Mass, and died a few hours later, surrounded by his parishioners. There were hundreds of people assembled for his funeral, spilling out from the church onto the steps and the parish hall. He too had nothing to fear from death; he was an old man, and he had gone above and beyond the call of duty. His death was a glorious triumph, a homecoming for a man of God whom I feel is destined for sainthood.
The shocking and the distasteful
These examples of the welcome acceptance of death are shocking to people my age, simply because they go against conventional wisdom. The young do whatever they can to put off death; grinding their bodies to the bone in an attempt to outrun it, or simply refusing to accept its existence.
Even more distasteful to young people, however, are those who aspire to eternal youth after reaching the fullness of adulthood. Haunted by the approach of an undefeatable enemy, they try to deny it. They refuse to accept the onward march of time, shuddering every time they see a wrinkle or grey hair in the mirror. These outward signs of age are unbearable for them, and they fill their bodies with silicone and botox, or revert to hair tonics and atrocious wigs. There are few things as pitiful as an adult pretending to be a teenager, with all the drinks, drugs, and lust that entails.
For those without Faith, death is an unknown quantity, something they cannot control or bring to heel. It is a sign that they are human, and subject to a greater power than themselves.
One of the most delightfully morbid religions in the world
Even in Holy Mother Church, we can see that the cultural fear of death has taken root. The Four Last Things are forgotten. The part of the Creed where we acknowledge that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead is passed over without a thought. Some might say that the increasingly tacky gaudiness of funerals, with their emphasis on the deceased’s life and personality and the Resurrection, are signs that we do not fear Death enough. I disagree. This is a form of denial of death, and a flippant disregard for its consequences.
This denial represents a clear departure from traditional Catholic views on death. We are, without a doubt, one of the most delightfully morbid religions in the world. Our liturgy reminds us of its approach every day; we are told to always be in a state of grace, that we never know when it might strike. Our altars are built over the bones of the martyrs, we kiss and caress the bones of the sanctified dead, and the most omnipresent symbol of our Faith is a man being brutally tortured and murdered.
Death for Catholics
Our God Himself deigned to die. The Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of that murdered God-Man. And there lies the heart of it. That consecrated Body is alive, and that Blood flows freely.
Death for Catholics is just a transient stage of life, the fulfilment of one chapter and the commencement of a far greater one. The presence of death in our lives is a reminder of what comes after it: Judgement, then an eternity of delight in God or a tormented separation.
Atheists enjoy claiming that the religion is built on fear of death, that is simply a safety blanket for those who are afraid of the dark. I have never met a truly devout Catholic who is afraid of death. It is hard to fear something when you hope and pray that it will grant you an eternity with your Beloved. And even in the midst of the grief caused by death, we have rituals to give us comfort, and duties of prayer to uphold towards the deceased. And they remain in the Church forever, our brothers and sisters Triumphant and Suffering; they continue to watch over us and pray for us.
Death for the non-religious
But the non-religious experience a profound discomfort and disorientation around death. They profess that the person they loved who lies dead has no destiny beyond feeding the worms of the grave, or being scattered by the four winds. That is a hard reality for anyone to comprehend about a child, or a parent, or a wife. You can celebrate a life, but what are mere memories compared to a shared and abiding love?
Milk, honey, cheeseburgers and oxycontin
By outward standards, the modern Western World is a paradise, though the pastoral beauty of Arcadia is long gone. Milk and honey flow alongside cheeseburgers and oxycontin. We have at our disposal unlimited pleasures; food, wine, sex, drugs, all the depraved fantasies of a Roman Emperor.
Death had been allowed to slip from our minds, a fatality of new medicines and increased hygiene.
And yet it still remains present, defeating the fevered attempts of scientists to defeat it. We have destroyed a hundred diseases, but our minds grow sicker than ever, and our bodies more addicted to cruel substances. We cannot escape death, and we cannot ignore. All that we can hope for as Catholics is that God will grant us a good death. Beyond that, nothing else much matters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: WILSON GAVIN is a nineteen year old Australian Catholic.