Ever nearer to the grave

I just came upon this evocative sermon on death by John Henry Newman called “The Lapse of Time.”

Such is death considered in its inevitable necessity, and its unspeakable importance—nor can we ensure to ourselves any certain interval before its coming. The time may be long; but it may also be short. It is plain, a man may die any day; all we can say is, that it is unlikely that he will die. But of this, at least, we are certain, that, come it sooner or later, death is continually on the move towards us. We are ever nearer and nearer to it. Every morning we rise we are nearer that grave in which there is no work, nor device, than we were. We are now nearer the grave, than when we entered this Church. Thus life is ever crumbling away under us. What should we say to a man, who was placed on some precipitous ground, which was ever crumbling under his feet, and affording less and less secure footing, yet was careless about it? Or what should we say to one who suffered some precious liquor to run from its receptacle into the thoroughfare of men, without a thought to stop it? who carelessly looked on and saw the waste of it, becoming greater and greater every minute? But what treasure can equal time? It is the seed of eternity: yet we suffer ourselves to go on, year after year, hardly using it at all in God’s service, or thinking it enough to give Him at most a tithe or a seventh of it

It is rare to think with this level of attention about the brevity of life.

However, some people do.

A couple years ago, I went to meet someone at his office where I noticed a poster with many small dots on it in rows and columns.

When I asked this man about it, he explained that it is a sort of life calendar depicting how many weeks he has to live if he lives the average lifespan of someone in his demographic.

He showed me the point in the poster at which he is now and explained that having this reminder in his office of the shortness of life spurs him on to tackle his tasks with resolve, gratitude, urgency, and enthusiasm.

To me, this memento mori exemplified the conscientious of which Newman speaks.

The Humanness of Burial

I was pleased to see Fr. Raymond de Souza’s piece in the National Post titled, “What happened at the Kamloops residential school was an offence against humanity.”

In it, he discusses the thought of Hans Jonas, a German Jewish philosopher about whom I wrote my undergraduate thesis.

Separately from that thesis but very much related to these themes, I wrote this short academic paper in 2017 about what it is that sets human persons apart from animals and machines.

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The Opposite of Social Distancing

Jozef De Veuster was a Belgian Catholic who asked God to be sent on a mission.

Having done his formation for the priesthood in Belgium, he was then sent to Honolulu and was ordained two months later.

He took the name Damien and began his priestly ministry in the Hawaiian Islands.

During Fr. Damien’s time, there was a public health crisis. Mortality rates were high due to infectious diseases for which there was no herd immunity. Chinese workers were suspected of having brought the disease to the islands. The outbreak was not well understood and experts were unsure as to how it spread, whether it could be cured, and whether transmission could be stopped. The government passed mandatory quarantine legislation, even sending some people to isolate in remote locations. The officials insisted that these were not prisons, but there was certainly not enough medical supplies or doctors and nurses. Some experts thought the lepers would be better off dead. One health official conjectured, “It would seem that even demons themselves would pity their condition and hasten their death.”

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Just Passing Through

Yesterday I started a six-week course called Journey of the Soul: A fresh look at life, death, and the rest–in peace. Throughout the course, we study death in its philosophical, emotional, and practical dimensions.

One highlight from the first session was hearing an anecdote about Rabbi Dovber of Meseritch.

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