THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
Her Doctrine and Morals
23 February 2020
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Our lives on this earth are filled with storms and agitations. We carry within our fragile souls a host of concerns about our present and future state in this world. Jesus was concerned for the Apostles and so, we see that He is telling them very plainly that He is going to die. After this, the Gospel tells us that, "they understood none of these things, and this word was hid from them, and they understood not the things that were said." Reading this in the Holy Scriptures causes many to wonder how the Apostles could have been so blind, even after Jesus has spelled it out very clearly for them. St. Peter was resisting this right up to the time he cut off a man's ear trying to defend against it. Shortly after this, he denied even knowing Jesus.
When we hear of death today, we often refuse to understand. We do not wish to think of a loved one dying and leaving us. We do not wish to think of our own death. How often we have heard that we must die, how often we have seen others die, yet we still deny and resist. The evil world preaches a false doctrine of: "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die." The Church teaches us a true doctrine: "fast, do penance, mortify your flesh, for tomorrow you may die." Death is coming for all of us and it matters very much how we approach it. It is not wise to ignore or deny what is unavoid-able.
Once we have understood our own mortality, the question is how are we to spend the little time that we have left. (The longest life is truly a little while when we are considering eternity.) Shall we try to squeeze every ounce of worldly pleasure from the time we have left? Or, shall we turn every last moment into a sacrificial offering to God as we deny ourselves and take up our daily crosses and follow Jesus to Calvary? It is the pagan, who does not believe in God, that seeks only his physical pleasure in this world. The Christian, who knows Jesus, finds his joy in self-denial and approaching death when he can leave this world and enter into eternity to be with Jesus. Those who truly understand and love Jesus cry out with St. Paul, "Death, where is thy sting?" (1 Cor. 15:55)
We are at the door of the Lenten Season of penance and mortification. God is telling us through His Church that we must do penance. We are going to die, but for those who die in the grace of God, those who follow Jesus in sacrifice and self-denial there awaits resurrection and eternal life in Heaven. It is the greatest disservice that we can give to ourselves or to others to unrealistically deny that we are facing death and eternity. To encourage our dying loved ones to hold on and resist death or to give them false hope of avoiding death seems to be the cruelest thing ever. The kindest and most loving thing we can do for them is to remind them that death is approaching and help them use their last moments to prepare their souls to meet Jesus.
In this same vein, we often hear of funeral services that openly deny the existence of Hell or Purgatory as they automatically promote the idea that our deceased friend or relative is already in Heaven. If this poor soul is suffering in Purgatory and in need of the prayers and sacrifices of loved ones on earth, they are then forced to suffer longer because no one is praying for them foolishly believing that all is well. This seems to be the worst treatment that we can ever give to those whom we claim to love.
To avoid Hell, or to shorten or eliminate the need for us to burn in Purgatory, God has given us time in this life. Now is the time to do penance, mortify ourselves, and offer sacrifices to God. We cannot do this after we have died, it needs to be done now. We can help those who have died before us, only before we join them. We can help ourselves only while we have this mortal time. The time of this life is short and it is running out for all of us. We must bring our heads up out of the sand and put off the foolish self-imposed blindness and denial.
Death looks sad and evil, but it is the door that we must pass through to eternal happiness in Heaven. When we look at it in this manner it becomes much more acceptable and desirable to us. If death is the door, then penance, self-denial, and sacrifice is the key that opens the door to Heaven. The door of death also opens up into Hell and the key that opens this door to Hell is sinful self-indulgence (eating, and drinking, and being merry for tomorrow we may die).
We are alive now, but we may not be in the next moment. Which key is in our pocket? When we pass through the door of death which way will it open? Let us cast away the key that opens up Hell to us and pick up the key that opens Heaven to us. We should hold on to this key and not ever put it down again.
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