Katie Faley: All Souls’ Day and the saints who loved and celebrated death
Cause of Our Joy / Katie Faley
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said something recently that shook me up. After the passing of one of his good friends — a former professor colleague — the pope emeritus said, “Now he has arrived in the hereafter, where I am sure many of his friends are already waiting for him. I hope that I will soon be able to join them.”
I hope that I will soon be able to join them? Does that mean Benedict is excited to die?
From the sounds of it, yes, he is excited to die.
After reading Benedict’s words, I thought to myself, “Celebrating death? Only in the Catholic Church would we celebrate death.”
I mean, it makes sense. All Souls’ Day recently passed. On this day in the church we celebrate death and all those who have died. We have an entire feast day dedicated to celebrating all those who have died. Only in the Catholic Church is death so present and revered.
The Catholic Church can be pretty hardcore, and our view of death proves it.
AN “ALL OR NOTHING” FAITH
It’s not entirely surprising to me that we are so hardcore about death. I like to think of the Catholic faith as a sort of “all or nothing” faith. The Eucharist is really all Jesus or not Jesus at all. The Trinity either fully exists in three Divine Persons or doesn’t. Jesus is really the Son of God who saved us from death through His own on the Cross, or He didn’t.
There is no in-between. There are no half-truths.
If we want to look at the intensity of the Catholic Church’s view on death, we have only to look to the lives of the saints. The saints all led such unique lives, have such interesting stories and patron many diverse causes. But one thing that remains the same among nearly every canonized saint: they were intense about death.
Just about every saint has an interesting death story. Whether it was a young and painful death like St. Thérèse who suffered from tuberculosis for years, St. Maria Goretti who was stabbed as a teenager and forgave her murderer on her deathbed, St. Lawrence who was tortured and roasted over a fire for being Catholic, St. Damien of Molokai who died of the same disease as the people with leprosy he devoted his life to caring for, or St. Joseph who we celebrate as having the happiest death since he was surrounded by Mary and Jesus. We are even blessed with a beautiful painting of the happy death of St. Joseph in our cathedral in Peoria.
Death does not mean the end, and the saints knew this well. St. Francis even referred to death as a sister, as if it were a beloved family member. He wrote, “Blessed are those whom Sister Death will find in your most holy will, for the second death can do them no harm.” Death is the beginning of eternity spent with God. And the saints all knew and intensely believed this to be the true beginning of life. The saints show us what the true meaning of death is and why it is reason to celebrate.
LOVE THIS LIFE, ETERNAL LIFE
Having such a hardcore focus on death, however, does not mean that we Catholics don’t care about living life. In fact, Benedict’s private secretary said that although Benedict is looking forward to Heaven, he is “absolutely full of joy for life.” There is that all or nothing Catholicism again! We either love life to the fullest, earthly and eternal life both, or we don’t at all. We are created for a life of joy. This is just one of the many things that I love about the Catholic faith. There is no option for picking and choosing what we want out of the beliefs of the Church and what we don’t.
Catholicism gives us a total purpose for all of our life. We have something to live for. And we have something to die for.
While I wouldn’t say I’m ready to die anytime soon, I do have much peace that I have the hope of Heaven to look forward to, being reunited with those who went before me, and being totally united with the God who created me and died for me. That is hardcore.
KATIE FALEY is a member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria and digital marketing coordinator for the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. She has a master’s degree in theology and theological studies from the University of Notre Dame. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.