Archive for the ‘Notes to a Friend’ 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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Two Thumbs up for the Trades

Our cars, the roads on which we drive, our houses and apartments, offices and restaurants, every chair, every shelf, every implement from our toothbrushes to our favorite coffee mugs: all of these things are the work of human hands. Some of these goods are the product of assembly lines, some the consequence of men and women of the trades who bring an array of skills to their tasks.

All of these people have an intelligence often hidden by the title of their occupation. A man in his early thirties I met only once worked in the paper mill in Canton, North Carolina. He spoke with the accent native to the hills where he lived and looked nondescript. During our conversation, however, he revealed he had bought a house at the age of seventeen – an uncle helped him with the financing – fixed it up, rented it out, and now owned upwards of twenty such houses. This same man was fascinated by the history of the American West, and used his summer vacations to visit such historic places as the Alamo and the Little Bighorn National Monument.

My son-in-law is a contractor, a skilled builder and maker of furniture. He is a bright man, quick on the uptake, who has read many of the great books and will soon be teaching Euclidian geometry in a private school. Many of his friends, both those who graduated from college and those who never attended, also work in the trades, and display an equal array of gifts aside from their jobs. Another woman in town, a homeschooling mom and a teacher in a local co-op, declined to college and instead became an auto mechanic.

Many young people, I suspect, labor under the expectations of others regarding their choice of a career. Bill’s parents encourage him to study medicine… but he loved his Scouting experiences and dreams of joining the U.S. Forest Service. Sally’s parents hope she’ll go into accounting and join the family business… but she imagines herself as a paramedic whirling around in an ambulance and saving lives.

In The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life, a book that should be read by young people everywhere, Charles Murray offers excellent advice on choosing a vocation. “Instead of trying to choose among specific careers,” he advises, “think first about the things you especially enjoy.” He then offers a sample list of such possibilities, such items as “You enjoy being outdoors,” “You enjoy solving puzzles,” “You enjoy security and predictability,” and “You enjoy risks.” Murray concludes with this injunction: “Once you have identified what things you instinctively enjoy, then start thinking about a career.”

The key to the “pursuit of happiness” in our work does indeed lie in discovering what we enjoy and then looking for ways to match those pursuits to a vocation.

Two Thumbs up for the Trades,” by Jeff Minick

 


Mike Rowe opens up on career, confesses “lost wonder” for skilled trades

 

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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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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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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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Self-government

Self-government requires that the self be governed. Any pagan philosopher could tell you that. All the American founders agreed: liberty without virtue is but license, and license enslaves. You can hope to run away from a vicious master. You can never run away from yourself.

Anthony Esolen

 


Restoring Christian Culture—Dr. Anthony Esolen

 

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Take things at the pace of prayer.

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Thin-Skinned


If you run into an asshole

There isn’t that much organic outrage in the world; it is by necessity manufactured.

If only there were some easy way to distinguish between the decent and well-intentioned and the callous and hateful. Perhaps we should consider the philosophical maxim of Raylan Givens: “If you get up in the morning and you meet an a**hole, you met an a**hole. If you meet nothing but a**holes all day, you’re the a**hole.”

The Exquisite Sensibilities of the Outrage Industry

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Enforcing the Law Is Inherently Violent

Yep.

Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter believes that the United States would benefit if the debate about what laws ought to be passed acknowledged the violence inherent in enforcing them.

Enforcing the Law Is Inherently Violent

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Mike Rowe Interview

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