Archive for the ‘Catholicism’ Category.

The Art of Dying

Ars Moriendi, or “The Art of Dying,” was an immensely popular and influential medieval text aimed at equipping the faithful for death and dying. It appeared by order of the Council of Constance sometime between 1414 and 1418, and although its author is anonymous, some scholars speculate that it was a Dominican friar.

It is no surprise that the Church would focus on death-related themes at this time: one of the central pastoral preoccupations of the late medieval Church was preparing souls for death, which included saving them from damnation and shortening their stay in purgatory. To suppose that this focus on death was primarily driven by the effects of the bubonic plague is probably an oversimplification; it seems, rather, to be a foundational characteristic of medieval piety, resulting from a flourishing belief in the reality of life after death and the salvific efficacy of the sacraments. Hence, securing the ministrations of a priest in the final hours of death was a chief concern. But the impact of the bubonic plague, including the loss of clergy who would assist the dying, heightened the need for additional forms of guidance—thus arose the Ars Moriendi, a standard for deathbed pastoral practice intended for the use of dying persons and their loved ones assisting them.

The span of centuries notwithstanding, some modern-day bioethicists have looked to the medieval Ars Moriendi for inspiration in discussing contemporary approaches to death and dying. They recognize that patients nearing the end of life today often are overwhelmed by the complexity of health care and miss the opportunity to prepare well for death. A modern-day Ars Moriendi, then, would serve as a corrective to the prevailing over-medicalized, technologically driven death. Whereas bioethicists generally have sought to use the medieval text as inspiration for an approach that accommodates a wide variety of belief systems, religious and secular, it seems vital that the expressed religious intent be preserved in such a work; in fact, certain insights from the medieval text may provide a helpful addition to contemporary pastoral approaches at the end of life.

Just a cursory look at the medieval Ars Moriendi may suffice to draw out some of these insights. As the text emphasizes, dying persons are commonly faced with temptations that threaten to rob them of salvation, including the temptation against faith, the temptation of despair, and the temptation of pride that leads to complacency. When faced with these temptations, such persons must realize the importance of dying in the faith of Christ and in union with the Church to attain salvation, which is true happiness. This includes the reception of the sacraments, repeated professions of faith, self-examinations, and prayer.

For sure, the sacraments are the primary means by which the faithful can attain salvation; nevertheless, one can resist the graces offered in the sacraments, and so these other practices are important to help dispose one to receive the sacraments efficaciously. In this way, simply ensuring the visitation of a priest and the reception of the sacraments does not suffice. While efforts must be made to console dying persons that death itself is not to be feared, in light of Christ’s salvific act, it is better to stir them from complacency than to allow them to drift away from God for the sake of comfort.

These insights from the medieval Ars Moriendi may be key in reclaiming an art of dying for the twenty-first century. They give cause for concern that the typical approach for Catholics nearing the end of life today presumes that the reception of the sacraments all but guarantees salvation; typically, little emphasis is placed on the need for regular self-examination, professions of faith, and overcoming common temptations against the love of God. Instead, the focus is on consoling the dying person and loved ones, not necessarily for the sake of overcoming fear of death to remove a barrier to salvation, but out of deference to social sensibilities. Based on these concerns, it seems we truly are in need of a modern-day Ars Moriendi. The medieval text makes clear that the reality of judgment after death and hope for the salvation of souls should take priority over everything else, including attempts to better navigate the complexities and limitations of medical management at the end of life.

This piece was originally written by Br. Columba Thomas, O.P.

Reclaiming an Art of Dying for the Twenty-First Century,” by Dominicans of the Province of St. Joseph, Word on Fire, July 9, 2019

Also see
Memento mori
Readaeer Life Size Replica Realistic Human Skull Head Bone Model
– “The Christian Art of Dying: Learning from Jesus,” by Allen Verhey
– “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,” by Atul Gawande

 


Insights – The Necessity of Thinking About Death – Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

 

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Music for the Dying

When Elaine Stratton Hild was eighteen, she volunteered to play her viola at a local hospital. On her first day, a nurse asked her to go to the room of a woman who wanted to hear “Amazing Grace.” She found the woman alone, but closing her eyes and allowing the music to wash gently over them both, Stratton Hild played the song. When she opened her eyes, she saw that the woman had turned toward the window and stopped breathing. She had died with the sound of “Amazing Grace” in her ears.

More recently, Dr. Stratton Hild (PhD in musicology) has been engaged in a fascinating study of plainsong chants that different communities would sing to dying persons in the Middle Ages. There were entire liturgies to comfort the dying. The presupposition was that the whole community of friends and family would accompany the dying person on their journey through death and beyond. No one, it was assumed, should have to die alone. And no one should die without the support of the community of believers who would care for both their bodily requirements and their emotional and spiritual needs.

Medieval people were not alone in this conviction. Many cultures have developed practices to help “accompany” the dying both physically and spiritually. A mother of three children who had for a time been a novice with a religious community mentioned that, when a certain bell sounded in that community, everyone would leave whatever they were doing to come to the room of the dying sister. The entire community (spilling out into the hallway) would then sing a chant while the person died.

Most of us in the modern secularized world have, it seems, forgotten how to deal with the dying. Our tendency is to lock the dying person away in a room so that no one can see this “failure” of our modern technology.

. . .

The Church, I am now convinced, should offer its help and the consoling presence of the Body of Christ not only in burial, but throughout the entire process of dying. And by “the Church,” I don’t just mean clerics.

I don’t mean to diminish the importance of priests and nuns. I can think of few things more comforting in the hospital than seeing a nurse who is also a religious sister in her habit. Catholics used to see that all the time. We never do anymore. (Why?) But priests and nuns cannot do everything; they cannot do what only a community can do. And we should not presume to “off-load” this work on them out of our sight the way we have off-loaded it onto doctors and nurses.

The one thing every dying person I’ve known has wanted is to die at home. Not one of them did. And in a hospital, the likelihood of a person getting music, chant, a communal liturgy, or the simple presence of friends and family around-the-clock, is nearly non-existent.

We have allowed ourselves to be atomized by modern culture into little separate units. And when we do that, we have no power against the institutions that promise to care for us, but which are increasingly threatening us. The medical community has an invaluable role to play in treating the dying, but it is only a part. No one should have to die alone, in the hospital, far from home.

Music for the Dying

 


Coda: Elaine Stratton Hild studies Medieval chants for the sick and dying

 

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The noble lie of self-reliance

 


Working-class agony: Who is to blame?

 

In faith, as in work and in family, the working-class men of Philly, Chicago, Boston, and Charleston sought autonomy and self-fulfillment but rejected institutions, structure, and tradition.

“Spiritual but not religious” is a growing portion of our working-class as Americans fall away from belonging to any particular religion. One subject rejected the idea of “a God with strings telling us how to live.” Such strings constrain our autonomy.

Of course, the traditional family also constrains our autonomy. Being bound to a community with all of its rules and norms constrains our autonomy. Working for a boss constrains our autonomy.

All of these constraints, most of us believe, help make us happier people, because they foster virtues and build bonds of reciprocity and even love. But this knowledge is almost a secret among those who hold it. Because our media and political megaphones blare the message of secularization, new modern families formed with individualism in mind, a robust “gig economy,” and the need to buck “the man.”

There are virtues to this myth. But look at the record number of suicides in the U.S. Look at the rising portion of babies born outside of marriage. Look at the stagnation of the working-class male.

Then, you see the danger when folks who were told they could fly come crashing down to earth.

When the noble lie of self-reliance becomes the dangerous myth of ‘autonomy’,” by Timothy Carney, Washington Examiner, May 29, 2019

Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse

Statolatry

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Back Row America

Had I asked people in my hometown why they were still there, I would have received the answer I heard in neighborhoods from Cairo to Amarillo to rural Ohio. They would have looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Because it is my home.”

When communities and towns are destroyed, partly because of the front row’s policies of globalization, the front row solution is, “Well, just move.” What matters is growth at all costs—even if it is brutal—and that requires everyone, always, to be economic migrants. The front row likes to say that the U.S. is a country of migrants, where people have always moved for jobs. It has been done before—the Dust Bowl, the northern migration of African Americans. But those migrations were responses to failure, not signs of success.

Back Row America, by Chris Arnade

 




America’s forgotten communities — interview with Chris Arnade | VIEWPOINT

 

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Poor Wayfaring Stranger, by The Hillbilly Thomists

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Deliver me O God!

 


I Shall Not Want Audrey Assad Lyrics

 

I Shall Not Want, Lyrics

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me O God

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
when I taste Your goodness I shall not want
when I taste Your goodness I shall not want

From the fear of serving others
From the fear of death or trial
From the fear of humility
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God

Audrey Assad – Wikipedia | web site

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What Anti-Semites and Pro-Abortionists Have in Common

One of the problems with modern politics is that everything is expressed in terms of right and left, and everyone seems to have forgotten about right and wrong. Thus, for instance, white supremacists are considered to be on the far right, whereas Antifa activists are considered to be on the far left. You’d think, therefore, that they couldn’t be further apart in terms of their respective beliefs. And yet if love of one’s neighbor is considered good and hatred of one’s neighbor is considered bad, the white supremacists and the Antifa activists are both equally bad. They are full of hatred for those whom they consider to be their enemies and are not averse to using violence to get their way.

Looking at the lessons of the past, which the white supremacists and Antifa activists seem intent on ignoring, we might think of Hitlerite Nazis as being on the far right and Stalinist communists as being on the far left. And yet both sets of extremists ruled their respective peoples with an iron fist and incarcerated millions of dissidents in concentrations camps. If one is a victim of political tyranny, it matters little if the jackboot that crushes you is on the left foot or the right foot. It is, therefore, not about right and left but about right and wrong.
. . .
No, it’s not about right and left, whatever that really means. It’s about right and wrong. Those who kill innocent people, refusing to see them as human persons, are wrong, whether they are anti-Semites or pro-abortionists. We should all be sickened by the contempt for human life shown by the man who gunned down worshippers at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, but we should be equally sickened by those who kill babies in abortion mills in every city across the nation.

What Anti-Semites and Pro-Abortionists Have in Common,” by Joseph Pearce

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Freedom versus security

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Statolatry and Illiberal Politics

Our modern world tries extremely hard to protect us from the sort of existential moments experienced by Mill and Russell. Netflix, air-conditioning, sex apps, Alexa, kale, Pilates, Spotify, Twitter … they’re all designed to create a world in which we rarely get a second to confront ultimate meaning — until a tragedy occurs, a death happens, or a diagnosis strikes. Unlike any humans before us, we take those who are much closer to death than we are and sequester them in nursing homes, where they cannot remind us of our own fate in our daily lives. And if you pressed, say, the liberal elites to explain what they really believe in — and you have to look at what they do most fervently — you discover, in John Gray’s mordant view of Mill, that they do, in fact, have “an orthodoxy — the belief in improvement that is the unthinking faith of people who think they have no religion.”

But the banality of the god of progress, the idea that the best life is writing explainers for Vox in order to make the world a better place, never quite slakes the thirst for something deeper. Liberalism is a set of procedures, with an empty center, not a manifestation of truth, let alone a reconciliation to mortality. But, critically, it has long been complemented and supported in America by a religion distinctly separate from politics, a tamed Christianity that rests, in Jesus’ formulation, on a distinction between God and Caesar. And this separation is vital for liberalism, because if your ultimate meaning is derived from religion, you have less need of deriving it from politics or ideology or trusting entirely in a single, secular leader. It’s only when your meaning has been secured that you can allow politics to be merely procedural.

So what happens when this religious rampart of the entire system is removed? I think what happens is illiberal politics. The need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction. And religious impulses, once anchored in and tamed by Christianity, find expression in various political cults. These political manifestations of religion are new and crude, as all new cults have to be. They haven’t been experienced and refined and modeled by millennia of practice and thought. They are evolving in real time. And like almost all new cultish impulses, they demand a total and immediate commitment to save the world.

America’s New Religions

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THIS is Performance Art

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