SR.

MARIA ELENA ADRE, FdCC THEOLOGY 264

FR. PETER POJOL, SJ

THE ELUSIVE MEANING OF HUMAN DEATH… (A COROLLARY TO THE ELUSIVE MEANING OF HUMAN LIFE) Reflection Paper 1
I walked down the long dim aisle of the LST oratory to pay my last respects to the man who restored my sense of self-appreciation. Only two candles kept watch as I surveyed his dark wrinkled face and the small frame that appeared to have shrunk even more. No one else was around and I was enveloped by what seemed to me, the loneliness, yet not the meaninglessness of his death…With a deep sigh, I thanked God for the gift that he is in my life. I was at peace because I believed he would be in my life in a new way, a way I was to discover years later.

The two initial readings from Daniel Callahan impressed me with his apparent longing to delve into the place and meaning of death in our human existence and with that the pursuit and advocacy for a “peaceful death” as perhaps the equivalent of Ariès’ “tame death”. I cannot disagree with the import of his goals although it seems that Callahan’s criteria for a peaceful death, has little to do with finding its meaning. Indeed, we grapple with death’s meaning yet we evade it so efficiently through debates about “law, regulation, moral rules and medical practice; about making legal or ethical or medical choices” related to dying. Somehow the practical goals make for some objectivity, some distance that allows us to evade the reality of death. I suppose, we fear truly knowing ourselves, even as we long to understand our existence. Callahan lays out in a somewhat thorough manner the complications particularly introduced by modern medicine but one can notice that the emerging questions only bring us back to the more ancient issues about self-society-nature (see pp. 18-19). His focus on the role of medicine is understandably unavoidable and it may be culturally justifiable to place it in the first chapter of his book since that is where society (that sees death as the enemy) has placed its hopes. I am glad that as he reveals the layout of his work, it seems he would dwell more on nature, values, culture and ultimately meaning.
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Callahan wrote at one point: “Even if we can make some sense of the larger questions of. We want to control death as we think we control life because their meaning continues to elude us. so shall we die.I suspect that the meaning and place of death can only be found in the context of human life and existence and not through an isolated (no matter how exhaustive) discussion of all that must dialogue with this reality. death is mere transition to another life meant to be eternal as perhaps it was in the original plan of God for humanity in Genesis before the “the Fall” when death took on not a punitive role but a salvific one. “Who am I that I must one day die?” The Fourth Gospel’s Prologue proclaims we came from God.death…we will be left with difficult problems in the way we live our lives.’” The mad drive to cling to life paradoxically is in tandem with the drive to bring death to those deemed less worthy of life (the unborn. the old or infirm to name a few). In the larger context of life.. in this kind of life. As an afterthought. Callahan notes that with medicine. As we live. And with the death of the Christ we are not simply restored but raised to a higher dignity than when we began to exist. we are made for eternal life. from eternity and are meant to go back to God.” Even such questions as: “What kind of persons should we try to become as we approach our end? What kind of persons do we want to be?” reveal that death is inextricably woven to the way we live and understand life.. the amount of sickness increased as the average length of life increased. Scriptures allude to this: MT 26:52 "Jesus said to him. Nature is perhaps telling us we are not meant to stay too long in this body. ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. I know that faith has shaped my perspective yet I acknowledge that my serene disposition will be severely tested when death comes closer than what I’ve been used to thus far… 2 . and necessarily so. death is only postponed but never escaped. the disabled.

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