Now we turn to the topic which modern man tries so hard to turn from: death. In previous generations, death was an omnipresent reality, as people typically died much younger than they do today and they died more horrifically: from war, from the plague, from common diseases, from childbirth. In our times, we like to think that we have conquered death because many of the ways we used to die are no longer common.
But even today every single human person must face the specter of his own death eventually, yet most of us spend very little time contemplating that event. Even though down deep we know that we will one day pass from this earth, we do everything we can to avoid the subject. Why is this? Because man is afraid of nothing as much as death. Death represents The End: the end of our lives, the end of the relationships we have built over a lifetime, the end of all we have worked and striven for on this earth: all gone in an instant. We are afraid that every single thing we have ever done vanishes into meaningless nothingness.
Yet in the face of this nothingness we hold out hope: hope that perhaps there is something beyond this world. Perhaps all we have done in this life will still have meaning after that life ends. Although every animal on earth dies, only man recognizes that there may be something beyond death. We reach into the great beyond and hope that after this life there is another life, one in which justice and peace reign and death is no more.
But why is there death in the first place? Why does life on this earth have to come to an end? Christianity gives a simple answer: sin. Without sin, there would be no death. St. Paul says, “Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Because of our sins death reigns in this world; if there were no sin, there would be no death. Thus, we were not originally created to die – we were created to live eternally; we understand instinctively that death is not part of our nature and we rebel against it.
But as much as we would like to avoid the subject of death and as much as we rebel against it, we must always keep in mind that all of us will one day die. St. Jerome would keep a skull on his work desk to remind him of this grim reality. We too must always be mindful that one day our moment will come and we must ask ourselves: are we ready to face death? Life here on earth is, in many ways, a preparation for death.
In the next post of this series we will take a look at what comes immediately after death: judgement.