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Memento Mori

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Father Jonathan D. Kalisch, O.P.
Director of Chaplains and Spiritual Development

 

Memento Mori.” Remember Death. These are words every brother Knight is sure to recall. While the exemplary practice of being present to the grieving family of deceased brother Knights and of offering the rosary during the wake or funeral is widespread, knowledge of the Catholic practices surrounding death continues to wane. I was stunned recently when cousins announced that they would not have a funeral Mass for my uncle — a devout, daily Mass-going Catholic — because the wake and funeral combined would be too much for the family to bear. November is an appropriate time to revisit the distinct teachings of the faith and Catholic practices on this vital subject with the men of your councils, and to invite them to inscribe their own wishes in their wills!

In Benedictus Deus, the Church teaches us that after death we are each judged, and then we immediately enter either into heaven, purgatory or hell. Heaven, the beatific vision of eternal life, is seeing God “face to face” while being in the fullness of relationship with God and those others that make up the Communion of the Saints. It is the fulfillment of all our longings, completion of our being, immersed and transformed by the Holy Spirit and the inner life of the Trinity. St. Paul describes it in 1 Cor. 2:9: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Those who die in a state of friendship with God, but who are not fully purified from selfishness and self-centeredness (whose hearts are not totally open to God) have to still undergo the suffering or personal purification from whatever keeps them from being in his presence. Why? The person may not have asked forgiveness for, or even acknowledged, less serious (venial) sins. He may have been forgiven more serious (mortal) sins, yet he may not have atoned for the consequences of such sin by repentance of some type. St. Catherine of Genoa explained it thus: “The soul that has the slightest imperfection would rather throw itself into a thousand hells than appear thus before the divine presence. ... The greatest suffering of the souls in purgatory, it seems to me, is their awareness that something in them displeases God, that they have deliberately gone against his great goodness.”

Hell is the eternal damnation, loss and separation that results from the state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed, reserved for those who refuse by their own free choice to believe and be converted from sin, even to the ends of their lives (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1033). It is impossible to be united with God if we refuse to love him. Persistence in a state of serious sin reflects a choice to reject God’s love and an intention to separate ourselves from him. Hell is the pain of isolation that comes from rejecting God’s love. It results from total selfishness and the free-choice rejection of his love and goodness. As the Catechism states: “In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life” (1039).

The Catechism speaks of an “exchange of goods” between those still on pilgrimage on earth — we who are alive — and those who have gone beyond the lifted veil, as Isaiah says, and even now stand before God. In death, our love, history, memory and personality all continue in our immortal souls. Our souls are purified from any ways that were not in line with God’s love and knowledge. They are purified from any possessiveness so that we love and know as God allows us to love and know. Hence, the continued importance of our works of charity for our deceased brother Knights and loved ones. Through prayers and Masses offered for their purification, they are made “ready” to behold him, and hear those joyful words: “Well done, my faithful servant, enter into your heavenly reward.” 
 
Vivat Jesus!

Fr. Jonathan D. Kalisch, O.P.
Director of Chaplains and Spiritual Development
FrJon.Kalisch@kofc.org
(203) 752-4115