It’s undeniable that for all of our modern wizardries of technology, deep down within us they haven’t done anything to reduce our instinct of fear. Far to the contrary, and particularly this year, with all of our culture seemingly in an imprisoned grasp of fear, we see that our ability to control certain aspects of reality has merely made our fear of things we can’t control grow worse. We fear that ultimate end of man’s mortal life, death, more seemingly than at any other time in history, evidenced by the fact that we’ve seemingly given up completely on living in order to attempt at anything within our power to push off for a moment that ultimate fate of our natural end, the decay of our bodies of death.
Everything becomes subservient to an ultimately hopeless rush to save our lives, to extend them, to postpone what must come as part of the nature of our bodies. We see death as something to be feared, something fitting into Aristotle’s definition of fear as “as a pain or disturbance due to a mental picture of some destructive or painful evil in the future.” Convinced that death qualifies as such an evil, perceived as it is as THE END, the end of whatever success we have built up, whatever opportunities we have managed to take, or whatever wealth we have managed to accumulate: our perception of death as such an end brings carries with such feelings of nothingness and purposelessness as the author of Ecclesiastes expressed in that ancient text of the Bible: “All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.“
Dust seems to be winning in the world long term. And we hate that. Fearing it, we see the only thing we can do as temporarily postponing this evil for the sake of a little more pleasure, one more experience, one more hope of a better physical world, something we can grasp onto and hope for. Just a little longer. Just around the corner. Hope will be there, we think.
But we’re looking at the whole question wrong. We fear death because it seems to be the end of everything in this world. It seems to make any action pointless, evil tragically to go unpunished, the unjust to rule over the weak, and all manners of pain, loss, and purposeless dust to win.
What if it isn’t this way? What if we shouldn’t actually fear death? What if, on the other hand, death is not actually a “destructive or painful evil in the future” but the gateway to hope? On an intellectual level as Christians hoping in the redemption of Christ we know this to actually be the case. We know that we are not made for this world, that it is a means for the sake of the transition to another world, to a real more existence.
Of course we know this. But we don’t grasp it. For if we are in a state of grace, that is, aligning ourselves toward God as a friend as our final end by means of our actions and disposition of heart directing themselves toward Him (of course His grace acting within us makes it possible and actually moves us toward this).
Then we have nothing to fear in death as it is merely the veil, a veil, which the greater our faith, hope, and charity now, is more and more transparent, smooth, and seamless. We can live now and appreciate this life, but for the sake of the greater LIFE, by treating this life as a means. Like Augustine: “uti” and “frui”. We can use AND in a certain sense also enjoy this world (enjoy is being used here slightly equivocally of course as we are not to “enjoy” it in the same sense) but we are primarily to use it for the sake of the one thing that can be unequivlcally enjoyed, our final end, our supernatural final end, God.
The way our willing and decision making works, according to Aristotle, the final end which we see as bringing us our happiness will ultimately be present implicitly within and determine all of our particular actions. Setting this final end of the Beatific Vision and the life following upon it by a true supernatural hope as something attainable will set us up to have that end, by God’s grace working within us, even now. Even now, by faith, we can act and live with the world around us seen as the veil that it is. Even now we can see that all of its imperfections, the evils going unpunished, the concerns of the present, the fears of the future, all our meaningless next to that which truly and only matters.
Death and the end of time are a thing to be hoped for, for in them is the hope of the just, not a thing to be put off or feared. Neither is it something we should blindly approach by totally casting off this life. For God did make us material for a reason and made each of us that way in particular because he wanted us to do something, to establish something in this temporal order. But we have to see it properly for what it is and rest our hope even now on what is to come as Pope Benedict XVI accounts in his encyclical Spe Salvi.
And we know all this already, we just don’t know it deep down when the getting get’s rough, when we’re forced to confront this on a practical and not just an intellectual level For especially this year, with access to Mass and the Sacraments often restricted, it often does seem that this world is all there is, that there’s nothing else to truly hope for beyond it, and that everything is hopeless insofar as the world by itself without God and without a final judgement to reckon all to the right is hopeless.
Think about it some more, attempt to at least internalize this hope a little deeper each day. For such fear is the real pandemic raging now through humanity, and against it, hope provides the only antidote.