When I Die, Do I Want to Be a…Tree?

This phrase recently appeared in the Ottawa Citizen in an article on the greening of death, a quote from Susan Koswan, a Waterloo writer and environmental activist.  It is not my intention here to judge anyone’s particular religious beliefs, but to point out how far we have drifted from the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body, and to explore some of the consequences of different views of the after-life that seem to be resurging in our culture, such as materialism, re-incarnation, and dualism.

The above citation reduces the hope of eternal life to pure materialism.  All that will be left of us is ashes, which, as the writer exhorts, can be put in the ground, mixed with soil and fertilizer, to help give rise to a tree.  So we – or at least our molecules – would continue to exist in the form of a maple or an oak tree.  For people with beliefs in materialism, I don’t know if we can convince them otherwise with a top-down approach, trying to persuade them to accept Christian revelation on the resurrection of the body.  But we can experiment with a bottom-up approach, exploring the deepest desires of the human heart.  Let us ask them, “If you could be and have anything you wanted in the next life, what would it be?”  I find it hard to believe that one’s greatest ambition would be to be a tree.  It is an extreme case for settling for less, out of a lack of hope and belief in something better.

The Vatican II Pastoral Constitution on the Church, Gaudium et Spes, touches on the mystery of death, observing that in the face of death, people can be tormented by the dread of perpetual extinction.  However, “(Man) rightly follows the intuition of his heart when he abhors and repudiates the utter ruin and total disappearance of his own person. He rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which cannot be reduced to sheer matter.”  We rightly follow the intuitions of our heart when we believe in eternal life.  We all have a desire to live forever — for our being, consciousness and personality to continue to exist.  Accordingly, at some level, those who believe in materialism are denying the inspirations of their own heart.

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Saint Henry Morse, Priest of the Plague

I stumbled on this absorbing short film on the life of the English martyr, Saint Henry Morse (+1645), who spent significant part of his secret missionary apostolate ministering to plague victims, in what was still-anti-Catholic Britain under Charles I (who was married to the Catholic Henriette Maria).

His life, like all the lives of the saints, provides many lessons for our modern era, not least in what ‘risks’ a priest should take – to himself and others  – to offer the sacraments to Catholics deprived of them, as well as the shape of resistance to unjust authority. The only ‘sheltering in place’ for these holy and hardy men was when they were thrown into filthy dungeons, and even then…

Saint Henry Morse was hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on the first of February, 1645, giving glory and praise to God for such a death. As a young man, he had prayed for the grace of the trifecta of virginity, learning and martyrdom in his pursuit of holiness, and he achieved all three.

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Clarification on ‘Peace’ and ‘Violence’

A local on-line magazine seems to have quoted me in a way that may be misconstrued: So for those of you in the local area, and even those further afield, here is what I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the events on Capitol Hill:

Ah, yes, great is the power of steady misrepresentation, not least via the warm and comforting glow of what comes through the screen, now almost unilaterally controlled by an oligarchy of billionaires tied up with the Democrats, showing us only what it wants to show, and saying only what it wants us to believe, soothingly and reassuringly, but then more menacingly as we resist, and as other competing sources are shut down, or, as the saying now goes, ‘de-platformed’. As Pope Benedict warned in another context in his 2006 Regensburg address, if words and honest debate and freedom of expression, and now freedom of assembly, if any recourse to changing the regime and its laws, are more and more verboten, or perceived as such, what recourse do the people have, except violence?

I was following the thought of then-Pope Benedict, as well as Thomas Aquinas, who make the same point.

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