We are all terminal, so what’s your decision?

One of the best things about doing this daily blog is that my friends now think to share with me anything particularly good and interesting about death or dying that they’ve seen or heard lately.

And so, quite a few of my friends have brought up this homily by Fr. Mike Schmitz’s from Palm Sunday:

In it, he says, “We’re all going to be dead at some point and I don’t think that that’s the problem. I think the problem is that we pretend that we’re not. We pretend that that’s not true and then, when tragedy happens, when death cuts close, I think it cuts through the illusion that my choices don’t matter.”

The whole homily is very much worth watching, but my favourite part is when he discusses the third Canto of Dante’s Inferno in which Cowards and Neutrals are met at the The Gate and Vestibule of Hell.

Fr. Schmitz talks about how, in life, not to decide is itself a decision; it is the decision of the crowds in the Gospel who one minute are saying, “Hosanna!” and the next day are shouting, “Crucify Him!”

In the Inferno, when Dante gets to The Gate and Vestibule of Hell, he asked Virgil about who they are encountering to which Virgil answers:

This wretched kind of life
the miserable spirits lead of those
who lived with neither infamy nor praise.
Commingled are they with that worthless choir
of Angels who did not rebel, nor yet
were true to God, but sided with themselves.

When Dante inquires about the reasons for their lament, Virgil explains:

These have no hope of death, and so low down
is this unseeing life of theirs, that envious
they are of every other destiny.
The world allows no fame of them to live;
Mercy and Justice hold them in contempt.
Let us not talk of them; but look, and pass!

Nevertheless, Dante does take a look at them and reports:

And I, who gazed intently, saw a flag,
which, whirling, moved so swiftly that to me
contemptuous it appeared of all repose;
and after it there came so long a line
of people, that I never would have thought
that death so great a number had undone.

The souls of the uncommitted are described as “wretched souls, who never were alive.”

As Fr. Schmitz sums up, “They were all chasing after this blank flag that constantly eluded them. Why? Because they had spent their entire lives not ever standing for anything, not actually choosing good or evil. They had spent their lives indifferent and impartial; they had spent their lives like the crowd, like Pilate.”

If we look around, we can see many living “without disgrace and without honour.” And this might not strike us as that problematic unless and until we are alive and alert to the reality that we are going to die and our choices matter.

As David Kuhl writes in What Dying People Want, “It would seem that death anxiety is related to life anxiety. If I am living in a way that is true to myself, would I fear death? And if I fear death, am I really living as I would like to be living? If I lived my life without trying to meet the expectations of anyone else, who would I be, how would I live? If I knew my life were coming to an end within a specific amount of time, how would I live now?

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