Dominica V quæ superfuit post Epiphaniam - The Four Last Things (Death)

Latin Mass 2021  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  8:16
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PRESENTATION: The fear of death

When I was attending St. Peter’s Seminary in London, those in the Philosophy Program obviously majored in philosophy, but their program did permit for taking a small number of elective courses. One year, several of the men decided to take a class in thanatology. For those of you with any background in Greek, you will know that that refers to the study of death and dying.
Evidently the professor was somewhat of a character, as the men would often return and recount stories of the professor’s unusual teaching style. At the beginning of the very first lecture, the professor entered the lecture hall, looked out at all the young, fresh faced university students, and with an outstretched hand, and a voice somewhat reminiscent of the former political leader Preston Manning, proceeded to tell the students, “You are going to die!”
This is probably not what those students were expecting, and it is probably something they had never seriously considered either, because death is a subject that we tend not to speak about, or think about. Nevertheless, it is a reality that will come to each one of us. Benjamin Franklin once famously wrote, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”, but taxes you can avoid in the Cayman Islands, death is unavoidable.
Today, then, we continue with the second sermon in our series on the Four Last Things. For those who were not here for the Feast of All Saints, I encourage you to read the first sermon in this series which I preached that evening, on Heaven. Today we will backtrack somewhat and consider what is the first in order, the subject of death.
As I mentioned, death is a subject that most people tend to avoid not only speaking about, but also thinking about. So much so, that that thanatology professor would spend an entire class going through the euphemisms we have created in the English language to avoid saying the word “death”.
‘Passed on’, ‘passed away’, ‘gone to a better place’, ‘pushing up daisies’, ‘kicked the bucket’, ‘bought the farm’, and the list goes on. It’s easy to understand the modern fear of death, for those who don’t believe in a loving and provident God, for those who don’t believe in the possiblity of life after death, then death is truly something to be feared, because it means the annihilation of self.
However, we even see in the writings of faithful Christians, saints, and the Fathers of the Church a certain fear. The danger is allowing our fear to keep us from being properly prepared, so let us examine why we fear death, and how we can face that fear.

EXPLANATION: Death is an unnatural state

The first reason many may fear death is the uncertainty of what will come after. For the unbeliever that means the end of everything, for the man of weak faith that means uncertainty about whether the teachings of the Church on eternal life were really true, but even for the man of strong faith there can be a fear over our eternal disposition. This aspect we will look at in more depth when we consider the Particular Judgement and Hell in our next two sermons.
The second reason that we find the subject of death repugnant, is the innate knowledge that it is unnatural. God created us for life, and placed within us a love for life. God created us as a composite being of body and soul, and at death our being is shattered, torn apart, as our soul goes to its judgement, while our body remains here lifeless.
During our lives we are subject to anxieties, apprehensions, and sorrows. Our bodies are subject to pain and sickness of all kinds. Yet none of these can compare to the agony of death. Our souls and bodies were created for each other and their union is so intimate that a parting between the two seems to be almost impossible.
In one of his epistles to St. Augustine, St. Cyril of Jerusalem relates what was told to him by a man who was raised from the dead. Among other things he said, “The moment when my soul left my body, was one of such awful pain and distress that no one can imagine the anguish I then endured. If all conceivable suffering and pain were put together they would be as nothing in comparison with the torture I underwent at the seperation of soul and body.”
We know too, from the testimony of Our Redeemer Himself, that no agony is like the agony of death. Throughout the whole course of His Sorrowful Passion, He was tortured in a terrible manner, yet all the suffering He endured was nothing compared to what He suffered at the moment of His death. We see clearly in the Gospels, that none of the pains He endured in His sufferings caused Him to cry out, in fact we are told He remained silent. However, when the moment came for His Sacred Soul to depart from His Blessed Body, we read that He cried out in a loud voice, and gave up His Spirit.

IMPLICATION: Enduring death for Christ’s sake

If you weren’t scared of death before, perhaps you are now, but my intention is not to frighten, but simply to enlighten and prepare you for what is to come in the life of every person.
One of the reasons that God allows us to experience the pain of death, is to know the depth of His love for us, that at our deaths we might taste something of the bitterness of Christ’s death. St. Gregory the Great explains:
Christ’s conflict with death represented our last conflict, teaching us that the agony of death is the keenest agony that man has ever felt or will ever feel. It is the will of God that man should suffer so intensely at the close of his life, in order that we may recognize and appreciate the magnitude of Christ’s love for us, the inestimable benefit He has conferred on us by enduring death for our sakes. For it would have been impossible for man fully to know the infinite love of God, unless he too had drunk to some extent of the bitter chalice which Christ drank.
God has ordained, in His Justice, from the Fall of our First Parents, that all men should die, but knowing that Christ willing endured death for us, we should be ready to endure death willingly for Him. Despite the sweetness of life, and the bitterness of death, yet out of humble obedience we should willingly accept death, with all its pains, yielding up our souls whenever, wherever, and in whatever manner Divine Providence has appointed for us. In this way we can know something of the pains Our Blessed Lord suffered on our account.
When our Crucified and Risen Lord comes to us upon the altar today, let us pray for the grace to face our sufferings, and to face death with determination and constancy, so that to the very end we may be pleasing in God’s sight and know the depths of His love for us.
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