(TCT) Robert Royal–Memento Mori – and More

When you reach a certain age, you start to reflect on the end, but something like this makes it real. You not only don’t have a young person’s sense of invulnerability any longer, but you know in the most concrete terms that the end will come – and that you have to prepare for how to meet it. This is not solely a Christian concern, by the way. Classical scholars have come to realize how much several schools of ancient philosophy were really something like spiritual direction. In the Phaedo, Plato reports Socrates as saying “those who do philosophy right are preparing to die.”Among the many things we’ve lost in the meltdown of Catholic culture in the last half-century is attention to the most important end-of-life-question: how to die. It’s much more than a decision whether to treat or not to treat. One of my patron saints, Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), after a life of intense intellectual activity – combating Protestant errors, trying to mediate in the Galileo case, and writing serious theological works including a highly influential Catechism – towards the end of his life “now free from public business,” composed The Art of Dying Well.

In the modern world, we’re supposed to know that thinking about death is morbid. Bellarmine, the heir to both pagan and Christian wisdom, knew differently: “what folly can be imagined greater than to neglect that Art, on which depend our highest and eternal interests; whilst on the other hand we learn with great labor, and practice with no less ardor, other almost innumerable arts, in order either to preserve or to increase perishable things?”

There’s probably no clearer indication of the distance between traditional wisdom and our age than this:

Now everyone will admit, that the “Art of dying Well” is the most important of all sciences; at least everyone who seriously reflects, how after death we shall have to give an account to God of everything we did, spoke, or thought of, during our whole life, even of every idle word; and that the devil being our accuser, our conscience a witness, and God the Judge, a sentence of happiness or misery everlasting awaits us.

 

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Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Eschatology, Roman Catholic