Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
It seems the news lately has been full of death. Since the first of the year, we’ve lost Hollywood idols like Kirk Douglas, Orson Bean and Robert Conrad. We've said good-bye to award-winning director Gene Reynolds, who amused us in the ’70s with hit shows like Lou Grant and M*A*S*H. Suspense novelist Mary Higgins Clark, longtime PBS News anchor Jim Lehrer, and L.A. Lakers basketball legend Kobe Bryant have all gone to their eternal reward.
Every day, souls and bodies are separated to await Christ’s final triumph over the revolt of evil at the Last Judgment.
Every day, at a rate that is in direct correlation with the birth rate, people die. Despite the skill of surgeons and therapists and the hopeful rhetoric of fitness gurus and hawkers of health foods, death is inevitable. From the day we emerge from our mothers’ wombs, red-faced and screaming, we are en route to that final goodbye, that greatest adventure.
But despite the frequency and the inevitability of the phenomenon, death takes us by surprise. When we read of the latest sad story of accidental drowning or beheading or house fire or pancreatic cancer, we react in stunned disbelief.
Peter Kreeft, in his 1982 book Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley, imagined a conversation among three famous individuals who died within a few hours of one another on the same day – Nov. 22, 1963 – and who found themselves together at the gates of heaven. In Kreeft’s book, the newly dead John F. Kennedy, Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis engage in what might be called a modern-day Socratic dialogue. President Kennedy was, in Kreeft’s estimation, a humanistic Christian; Huxley was an Eastern pantheist and Lewis, a Christian theist. They ask themselves and one another important questions: Does human life have meaning? Who was Jesus? And what does he mean to us today?
We need to ask ourselves these questions, too. So many people seem to plod along, asking themselves only whether they should buy the sportscar or the family van, the cheeseburger or the salad plate. The deeper questions about the Four Last Things (Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell) are obscured by modernity’s quest for fashion and fun.
Lent is a sober reminder of our destiny. On Ash Wednesday, the priest, deacon or layperson marks our foreheads with an ashen cross. “Remember,” he says, “you are dust and to dust you will return.”