Spirituality of the Readings
Life After Death
Death is hard to talk about. But life after death is even harder. Since both are in this week’s readings, we have to try it.
When we think about death, many images and experiences flood the mind. Often much suffering accompanies them.
I have been with a fair number of people while they died, and each time the event has seemed miraculous. Someone I had known and spoken with, someone whose every movement came from a mysterious source of life within them, burning bright as a candle in darkness, that someone has vanished. The body is the same one I knew before. The mouth is the same one that talked and laughed. But in the blink of my eye, the inside is gone.
“Where did she go?” “Where did he go?”
But even that way of talking is inaccurate. The manner in which people “go” is by means of walking, using their arms and legs and thus changing locations. In death the “going somewhere” is accomplished by cessation of all motion whatsoever. The “going” is at a much, much deeper level.
Only the thing called “hope” can give us a clue. Hope, not surety. One of the brothers in the First Reading says it this way: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him.”
We have only to glance at the crucifixion to see that Jesus too chose to die this way. He knew his Abba so well that he maintained hope even when everything screamed against it.
Our God is God of life, the Gospel says; “to him all are alive,” even the dead! How could this be? Because God keeps love safe.
Yes. Real love is the rich earth that nurtures great trees. Roots dig deep down in the soil for nourishment and moisture. Their green selves grow out of the earth—and notice something obvious: the earth does not grow out of them! Their life and our lives are rooted in the rich loam of love. Life grows out of love, not visa versa.
It is difficult to say the last sentence correctly. Let me try again. Love is a force much deeper than life. When life ceases, love stays. It becomes the home, the embracing arms that enfold us. Love is the substance, life is the outgrowth.
So the “place” dead persons go, leaving their bodies behind, is into the heart of love, into the arms of God who is love.
Here is how the poet Hopkins put it:
Hither then, last or first,
To hero of Calvary, Christ’s feet—
Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it—men go.*
Christ’s feet are where you and I will be, honoring the perfect fullness of love he achieved. Oh yes, we have to release our tight grip on the treasures we hoard, things we might be grasping instead of love.
If you and I have a hard time “meaning it and wanting it” during our lives, even so, we are still folded into the luxuriant soil of God’s love. Sometimes we refuse it, of course, and then our roots dry out in the sun. But Love forgives us and invites us and helps us back.
It is hard to talk about, but worth it.
John Foley, SJ
* The poem fragment comes from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” stanza 8. “Men” in that day meant all persons.
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University