Because of Blaise Pascal’s Letter upon the Death of his Father

Webster has been serving at funerals lately, one in early December and one just a few days ago. And in a prediction that is all too likely to come to fruition, he believes he will attend the funeral of at least one dear friend this year. Reading these posts, I reflect on the fragility of human life and the sudden impact on our loved ones lives when we depart this mortal coil.

A sudden death, an accidental death, the unexpected death is always a shocker. Others are blessed with an illness—or maybe it’s not a blessing, to see the train enter the station that will inevitably bear them away. There is pain, and suffering in the long drawn-out route to eternity.

The fact that our own death is inevitable is why I don’t spend much mental horsepower worrying about the Apocalypse. Fifteen seconds from now is more likely to be the end times for me, and that is likely true for you too. By preparing for the near term, and I argue, the more likely event, I’ll be prepared, like a good Boy Scout, if I am blessed to witness the Second Coming.

As I have come to find out through reading about their lives, many of the saints recommend that you ponder your personal end times often. Though not an official saint, my buddy Blaise Pascal (pictured here, sitting in the Louvre in Paris) did his share of pondering death. Perhaps he’s proofreading the letter he wrote to his sister upon the death of his father. I’m not sure how she took it, but it provided me much comfort and became another reason why I am Catholic.

After his introduction expressing remorse at this news he writes that,

In the midst of grief . . . we should seek consolation in our ills, not in ourselves, not in men, not in anything that is created; but in God. And the reason is, that all creatures are not the first cause of the accidents that we call evils; but that the providence of God being the only and veritable cause, the arbiter and the sovereign of them, it is indubitable that we must resort directly to the source, and go back to the origin to find a solid alleviation.

And now, get ready for the longest, most cogent and understandable sentence regarding death that any mathematician has ever written in the history of mankind (I can’t verify this but sheeeesh!).

If we follow this precept, and if we regard this event, not as an effect of chance, not as a fatal necessity of nature, not as the play of the elements and parts of which man is composed (for God has not abandoned his elect to caprice and chance) but as a result indispensable, inevitable, just, holy, useful to the good of the Church, and to the exaltation of the name and greatness of God, of a decree of his providence conceived from all eternity to be executed in the plenitude of its time in such a year, such a day, such an hour, such a place, such a manner; and, in short, that all that has happened has been from all time foreknown and foreordained of God; if, I say, through a transport of grace, we regard this accident, not in itself and apart from God, but apart from itself and in the inmost part of the will of God, in the justice of his decree, in the order of his providence, which is the true cause of it, without which it would not have happened, and in the manner in which it happened, through which alone it has happened; we shall adore in humble silence the impenetrable loftiness of his secrets, we shall venerate the sanctity of his decrees, we shall bless the acts of his providence, and, uniting our will to that of God himself, we shall wish with him the thing that he has willed in us and for us for all eternity.

Sure, Blaise could have used an editor. But this was a letter to his sister written while he was grieving. And—if you could have edited that sentence, what would you have removed? Uh, huh—absolutely nothing! It is a great summation of the fact that God’s will is being done whether we see it that way or not.

Blaise continues to console his sister masterfully, paragraph after paragraph. He mentions that it is certain that neither the philosophies of Socrates nor Seneca can provide any solace to the question of our mortality. And that is because they believed that it was merely natural that all men die.

But Blaise, being a good Catholic Christian sees death in an entirely different light. He acknowledges this as follows,

Let us consider death in the truth which the Holy Spirit has taught us. We have this admirable advantage, of knowing that death is really and actually a penalty of sin imposed on man in order to expiate his crime, necessary to man to purge him from sin; that it is the only one that can deliver the soul from the concupiscence of the members, without which saints come not into the world. We know that life, and the life of Christians is a continual sacrifice that can only be completed at death. . . . We know that what has been accomplished in Jesus Christ should be accomplished also in all his members.

In other words, unlike Enoch or Elijah, we aren’t going to get off the planet alive. And you can’t get to heaven unless you die. You can’t get there without going here, that is, through death. Blaise then proceeds to preach a heck of a good sermon on the example that Jesus set for us all. We have to be like Him, and He died, was buried and then rose again in fulfillment of the scripture. Our Lord showed us the way that we too must go.

But Blaise is quick to mention that death apart from Jesus Christ is . . .

horrible, detestable, the horror of nature. But in Jesus Christ, it is altogether different; it is benignant, holy, the joy of the faithful. Everything is sweet in Jesus Christ, even unto death.

Half way through the letter Blaise writes the following exhortation:

Let us then no longer look upon death as the heathen, but like Christians, that is, with hope, as St. Paul commands since this is the especial privilege of Christians. Let us no longer regard a corpse as putrid carrion because deceitful nature figures it thus; but as the inviolable and eternal temple of the Holy Spirit, as faith teaches. For we know that sainted bodies are inhabited by the Holy Spirit until the resurrection which will be caused by virtue of this spirit which dwells in them for this effect. . . . Let us no longer regard a man as having ceased to live although nature suggests it, but as beginning to live as truth assures. Let us no longer regard his soul as perished and reduced to nothingness, but as quickened and united to the sovereign life; and let us thus correct, by attention to these truths, the sentiments of error so deeply imprinted in ourselves and those emotions of honor so natural to mankind.

I don’t know how this could be explained any better. Blaise’s letter in its entirety can be read here.

  • Webster Bull

    Frank, Very moving letter from your buddy Blaise and excellent commentary. Thanks. As I have written elsewhere, I converted to the Church in March 2008, my dad was diagnosed with incurable melanoma in early June, and he died September 23. Being a Catholic at the time of his death COMPLETELY transformed my experience of it, and I know that in some ways it was solace to him as well, though he remained a devout Episcopalian.

  • Mary P.

    This is a keeper, Frank! Yet another reason why I have to get to know Blaise better. Thank you.

  • EPG

    I admit I have my doubts about "the decree of providence" argument, at least to the extent that it applies to the particular circumstances of every death, in time, place and manner. For example, here in Florida, we recently had a notorious case in which a young girl was abducted from her home, raped, and then buried alive by a sexual predator who lived near her. It's hard to see "the decree of providence" in that. Perhaps it is better to think that God holds the handlebars of the universe lightly, and that, in creating a universe which included the possibility of free will, he allowed for all sorts of disasters, including room for individuals to commit evil, which may have consequences for those who happen to be near them.(But then, theodicy is a thorny problem, and I don't expect any of us to resolve that.) Perhaps a better response is simply to acknowledge, at least in the case of premature death, that there is no answer except the cross and the empty tomb. Christians have the ability to say at least, "Look, we don't understand the mystery of suffering and death, but we know that God shared in it on the Cross, and that the empty tomb tells us that death, however painful, does not have the last word."I have read one thing about death in general (as opposed to violent or pre-mature death), and I wish I could remember where, so that I could give appropriate credit. The idea was that death is providential in this sense, in our fallen state, we would essentially be (or become) monsters if we did live for all eternity. Think about it — unending life, with all the ailments, complaints, jealousies, misunderstandings, and sins, for ever and ever, world without end (but no "Amen"). So, God promises life everlasting, but not just that, it is life redeemed, life made as it was supposed to be, life transformed. Resurrection, not mere revivification.

  • Webster Bull

    EPG, With writing chops like that, we're going to have to press you into service more often . . . God has a light hold on the handlebars: I'll remember that one.

  • Anonymous

    Hi I love your columns and want to know what you would say to a mother whose 4 month old died of SIDS. She does not like to hear "God is in charge He knew what he was doing when he took your son, or God needed another angel in heaven, or be glad because he has reached his goal with no sin on his soul…these are only driving her away from God

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    EPG: Very good comment! Some of us have/had the occupational hazard of losing our lives right there in our job descriptions. My Christian faith, taught from infancy by my mother, always gave me hope in the Lord if I encountered a sudden death.As seen in the LOTH readings for today from the book of Habakkuk: "But I will rejoice in the Lord, take joy in God my saviour.The Lord God is my strength. He will make me as sure-footed as the deer. He will lead me up to the heights."And from the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79):"Through the bottomless mercy of our God, one born on high will visit usto give light to those who walk in darkness, who live in the shadow of death; to lead our feet in the path of peace."And this from the short reading (Isaiah 4:2):"Those who are left of Zion and remain of Jerusalem shall be called holy and those left in Jerusalem, noted down for survival."And some quotes from one of my non-Catholic, Christian, temporal heroes may be appropos as well. May I introduce to you to Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson:"Now I can do no more. We must trust to the Great Disposer of all events and the justice of our cause. I thank God for this opportunity of doing my duty.""I cannot, if I am in the field of glory, be kept out of sight: wherever there is anything to be done, there Providence is sure to direct my steps." "When I am without orders and unexpected occurrences arrive I shall always act as I think the honour and glory of my King and Country demand. But in case signals can neither be seen or perfectly understood, no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.""Before this time to-morrow I shall have gained a peerage, or Westminister Abbey."God save the King (Our Lord, Jesus Christ)!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09158421880497827083 Athos

    Jeff Hendrix here. Very apt, Frank, timely even. My father just died on New Year's Eve in his 91st year. My family was blessed to have him for so long.Having dealt with cancer myself, "offering up" our grief and suffering is an unique gift for us as Catholics. Definitely a worthy "Because". Best/blessings

  • EPG

    To Webster — you are too kind. But then, when guys like you and Frank provide such great material, I just want to work a little harder, and try to rise to the occasion. To Frank — We are staring at one of the great mysteries (and difficulties) of Christianity, and I don't even imagine that I can address it to anyone's satisfaction. But, even if we have confidence in the ultimate outcome, we don't necessarily have to infer that God specifically desired every step (or mis-step) along the way. After all, Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, prayed to be relieved of his trial in the garden, and, on the Cross, cried out to God, asking why he had been forsaken . . . Then again, we are bound by time, and, from the perspective of eternity, things no doubt look different.(On another note, since you admire Nelson, I would like to know if you've enjoyed Patrick O'Brian's novels. The legend of Nelson looms over some of the characters from time to time, and (a propos of this site) Stephen Maturin's Catholicism is a recurring (and not unimportant) theme.

  • Webster Bull

    To anonymous who wrote about a 4yo dying of SIDS—I think that EPG (comment above) has your back on this and offers a very good and thoughtful counter to Frank's post. I don't want to give you glib about this issue, so instead I'll give you Dylan Thomas. This is NOT an answer, just one of my five favorite poems and worth meditating on, I think."A Refusal to Mourn the Death By Fire of a Child in London" (typed from memory, so if I miss a word or two, forgive)Never, until the mankind-making, Bird, beast, and flower-Fathering and all humbling darknessTells with silence the last light breakingAnd the still hourIs come of the sea tumbling in harness,And I must enter again the round Zion of the water bead and the synagogue of the ear of cornShall I let pray the shadow of a soundOr sow my salt seed In the least valley of sackcloth to mournThe majesty and the burning of the child's death.I will not murderThe mankind of her going with some grave truth,Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breathWith any furtherElegy of innocence and youth.Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter, Robed in the long friends,The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,Secret by the unmourning watersof the riding Thames. After the first death, there is no other.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    To anonymous:Very, very sad news and my heartfelt condolences go out to you and this young mother. As EPG commented, this is indeed a great mystery, our lives and our deaths. Sorrow is felt, and Our Lord is a man of sorrows.You should have no doubt but that God is with you in the pain and grief you are suffering. Again and again the Scriptures tell us that God is close to those who are suffering: "The Lord is close to the broken-hearted". "Blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted". It is, in my humble and ill-informed opinion, natural to feel angry with God at a time like this. I would say she should have have no fear in telling God exactly how she feels. There’s no point in praying to God with a mask on and feeling something different beneath. Nor should she be afraid to to share her grief with others. Which is where her parish priest and parish community would be of such great help and comfort. Going it alone at a time like this is unimaginable to me.And she should talk and talk and talk as you listen, listen, listen. I have heard that "a trouble shared is half trouble." If we are a Christian community we should be helping people to carry their crosses. Tragedy brings people together, but sometimes only for a little while. I trust and pray that you and your family will help this anguished young woman to carry this cross for as long as she needs.The peace of Christ be with you and I pray His peace will be with this young mother as she works through this tragic loss.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    EPG: I love that series of O'Briens and I have read every one of the novels (with the exception of the unfinished one which his death had prevented him from completing). In hindsight, my reading this series was a grand "softening up" campaign for my setting sail towards Rome.A title that is appropos of this comment section is "The Nutmeg of Consolation". A sweet spice, and thankfully, through the graces of the Holy Spirit, our need of a Comforter has, and always will be met.

  • http://runswithangels.wordpress.com/ jan

    Good stuff, Frank. You're a nice addition to the blog. You should put an e-mail address up, though.To anon – there is nothing you can say to someone who loses a child, especially unexpectedly. The only effective thing I've found is to listen very carefully to what the grieving say and take your cues from that. Always be ready to listen and gently guide through each episode, if you will. The only thing you can truly say is "I'm so very sorry." Even if that is all you say, over and over, that is really all there is.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    jan: Noted! Done.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Athos: Forgive me brother. My condolences to you for the loss of your father. May his soul rest in peace and may you keep up the good fight.Your obedient servant,Aramis

  • Warren Jewell

    Hmm – had to comment – - -(YIMC is accumulating thoughtful readers with ready 'pens' – Bravo – may we all keep each other awake some nights.)[I copied that long sentence, and physically broke it down by single thoughts – makes much more readable, and of analytical sense.] Father Benedict Groeschel, after nearly dying in an auto-pedestrian accident, wrote that “There Are No Accidents’ – it IS all in God’s hands.But, if circumstances – the dead child, most movingly – seem harsh, we become tentative to have God the Prime Mover of all, that God would permit, even cause such tragedy. That is an odd kind of arrogant reluctance, coming from souls who still very willingly put up the sins that put the very Son of God, humiliated, beaten and tortured, on His Cross. And, yet, if in our weak and timid spirits God’s hand cannot seem to directly bring even death, He permits all that comes into motion that yields death, even of His most beloved innocents. Thus, the tortured child then buried alive began a few generations ago in the murderer’s family’s lessening moral strictures on such actions. God was there – He knew where it would lead and He let sinful human free will take its awful course. Then again, without God’s complicity in building me, I would have died before birth, short of say, lungs. It is decidedly a mixed bag, here, time-side, now that we have all sinned and come short of God’s direct Eden-like Presence and loving glory.I am reminded of our crucified Savior’s words at Luke 13:2-5: "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."To Christ, there was this aspect to such a judgmental assessment: “Just who the Hades are YOU, to question God’s will with you, you sinners! Get out of His face, and repent or forever die, and leave His infinite will to Him, His eternal choices to Him. You have eyes – SEE – You have ears – LISTEN – and accept whatever the Father gives you that He may save you.”And, thus does every prayer have its humble completion and move toward sublime perfection in the clause “. . . and Thy will be done.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Warren, I wondered where you were ;-). And see, of course these words from the Book Of Wisdom (1:11-15)Therefore guard against profitless grumbling, and from calumny withhold your tongues; For a stealthy utterance does not go unpunished, and a lying mouth slays the soul. Court not death by your erring way of life, nor draw to yourselves destruction by the works of your hands. Because God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome, And there is not a destructive drug among them nor any domain of the nether world on earth, For justice is undying.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    see Wisdom 1:16 and Chapter 2 for the World's response. Reads like it could have been written and printed yesterday…http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/wisdom/wisdom2.htmAnd check this out by St. Methodius on the Resurrection. Much rich food here…http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0625.htmWow, this is like studying for midterms exams for a class that I like :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09158421880497827083 Athos

    Jeff H. again. Because so many denizens of pop culture are being distracted to death (literally), the Paraklete nudged me (read: picked me up by the scruff of the neck and shook me) until this emerged. Shea, Pearce, Longenecker, Welborne and a few other good folk have good words for it.May we all wake up, as you say, Aramis, and work on the "near term" – which is where the Spirit and Our Lady truly want us to be living. Cheers

  • Anonymous

    To Anonymous (10:17):I understand your pain on losing a baby. If you look at the archives for this blog for Dec 16th, you'll find a reference to the Youtube clip for "99 baloons" in the comments. Very Inspirational! (even 24 years later) for me. I lost a baby at two days of age – and I realize that losing a child at 4 months is a whole other experience. And I know this because my sister lost a nineteen year old! Please accept my prayers as you fold this tragedy into the tapestry of your life…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Athos: A great "little guide" and a hearty Amen!Anon2 to Anon1: Thank you for those prayers!And I would be derelecting my duty (I have the conn currently) if I didn't share these words from The Word (Luke 12, 4-7):“I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him! “Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

  • VD

    And posts like these remind me why Pascal is my favorite Catholic scientist/mathematician/apologist. Thank you for your article. God bless you guys, him, and the Catholic Church.And most of all, God save the dead from Purgatory and lead them into everlasting life while the survivors receive their consolation. For indeed, "Blessed is he who mourns, for he shall be comforted (Luke 6:25)."

  • Maria

    About the Roadside Beggar…Annie Dillard writes, in Holy The Firm:His disciples asked Christ about a roadside beggar who had been blind from birth, " Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" And Christ, who spat on the ground, made a mud of his spittle and clay, plastered the mud over the man's eyes, and gave him sight , answered, "Neither this man has sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest to him." Really? If we take this answer to refer to the affliction itself–and not the subsequent cure–as "God's work made manifest,"then we have, along with "Not as the world gives do I give unto you," two meager, baffling and infuriating answers to one of the few questions worth asking, to wit, What in Sam Hill is going on here?The works of God made manifest? Do we really need more victims to remind us that we are all vitims ? Is this some sort of parade for which a conquering army shines up its terrible guns and rolls them up and down the street for people to see? Do we needs blind men stumbling about, and little flame faced children, to remind us what God can–and will–do?…Yes in fact, we do. We do need reminding, not of what God can do, but of what he cannot do, or will not, which is to catch time in its free fall and steal a nickel's worth of sense into our days. And we need reminding of what time can do, must only do: churn out enormity at random and beat it, with God's blessing, into our heads: that we are created, created, sojourners in a land we did not make, a land with no meaning of itself and no meaning we can make for it alone. Who are we to demand explanations of God ? ( And what monsters of perfections should we be if we did not?). We forget ourselves, picnicking; we forget where we are. There is no such thing as a freak accident. "God is at home," says Meister Eckhart, "We are in the far country." I have always loved this.

  • Maria

    Sub sepcies aeternitatis.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    JTD: Blaise is simply amazing. And he left this world before he turned 40 too. When one of the giants of probability theory, and a helper of Leibnitz (the infinitesamal calculus) says "for God has not abandoned his elect to caprice and chance"…he gets my attention.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    P82! Thank you for that comment and the eternal perspective.

  • Warren Jewell

    It strikes me in my re-reading of this wonderful post and grand comments that the very thing we should mourn are those now living who are clearly in danger of eternal death. And, what an excellent way for the Lord to comfort me, to bring them to Himself forever. Her ladyship, pinksy, may have us 'aeternitatis', but we must realize that the gate that is death opens on hellfire and, worst, never to be possessed by the Beatific Vision, for those who while yet alive here do not go to our Father in repentance, His Son for redemption and His Spirit that they have endurance across the race to be won.At wake and funeral, I surely weep for one greatly aggrieved, who has lost beloved to death. But, I can weep nightly over those whom I love who don't choose God even a miniscule touch, let alone first. And, I know of these bewildered and bewildering beloved in numbers.Athos, I have read your book, being one with some foreboding illnesses and dysfunctions. It is on my short list to be read again, soon. This, despite my shelves groaning with works who remind that I have not yet given them a thorough first reading. Good work, brother in God.Rest in peace, my friends, but only for this night.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Warren: You are indeed a jewel! I thank the Lord that I have gotten to know you virtually, at least. You rest easy, I have to tend to a fire ;-)

  • Maria

    I had a heart attack and almost died two years ago. I had a 90% blockage and truly believed I was going to die in the ambulance. The only thing on mind ( I couldn't breathe, mind you) was: Oh My God, I have not been to confession. Prayer and penance. Prayer and penance. It is everything. Warren: Because of this experience, I am now so mindful of souls in purgatory. I pray for them all the time. Because of my own sin, I know how souls need my prayer.

  • Warren Jewell

    A further extension, on this topic of consolation over death, and trying to be ready for 'a good death' (hint: any saint can tell you that you get ready for a good death by living a good life within God's will.)I have been widowed for over twenty-seven years now, and in the event had, and still have, lost the one best friend of my life. Now, just for instance, each of us, Sharon and I, lost our last grandparent on the same day. My maternal grandfather, with whom I was raised, finally died of supreme old age. My Sharon's paternal grandmother, who meant so much to us that our daughter Heléna is named after her, died of a severe stroke. Sharon was demonstrably devastated for the both of us. I just went mute, numbed, and into the kind of self-enclosed 'cocoon' I could form around me since I can remember. Within the following week, two persons with whom we had been close-since-I-can-remember were buried. And, by the end of the week, Sharon and I began to console with each other, and our union and Sacrament came powerfully to our aid. Fast-forward ten short years – after fourteen-and-a-half years of marriage, Heléna just turned ten, I myself just the week before turned thirty-six, on November 6, 1982, Sharon died in hospital suddenly. Her hospitalization was her fourth within the year, and I was exhausted with taking care of work, our daughter, our apartment, etc., over Sharon’s absences. At her death, I was shattered beyond my ability at words for description. Only complete faith in Sharon’s place among the saints made things bearable. If you think how tragic it is for a mother to lose her child, think what it did to me that my child had lost her Mom. But, too, think of my own fate – no partner in unity and Sacrament was present any longer to lean upon, to weep with, and to get on – together – with life and all. After all these years, if Heléna considers God’s will in it all, she still has a bitterness I cannot own. For me, God’s will has more and more taken over the helm of my ship, and without Him, I would still lay shattered in the path of my life. Moreover, that Sharon died, I so very much more had to depend upon God’s will and providence. He could not pour His will for us, for Heléna, Sharon and me – for me, in part – through Sharon. If I had not accepted God’s will, and all the suffering it has meant, and can still mean on lonely nights, just – – what . would . I . have?

  • EPG

    Warren, I simply don't have the words to express both my sorrow at the loss you have endured for so many years, and my admiration at the confidence you have in the providential nature of God's will. I have been spared those sorts of trials. I have no idea how I would respond.In an earlier post, you wrote: "And, yet, if in our weak and timid spirits God’s hand cannot seem to directly bring even death, He permits all that comes into motion that yields death, even of His most beloved innocents." That is what I was trying to get at earlier: Since God has allowed free will, and we are not mere puppets, He has opened the possibility of horrible things happening as a consequence. And, if I understand correctly, a part of the Christian message is this: God does not always intervene, but he weeps with us, dies with us, and in the end redeems us. I have trouble with the idea of God directly bringing about everything. It doesn't seem to leave enough room for free will (no double predesdination for me!), and it just may lead to a resignation or quietism which seems contradictory to the Christian spirit (for more on that, join us again as we finish Chesterton).Best wishes.

  • Webster Bull

    In Vermont, away for a couple days with Katie, I was awake in the middle of the night reading all these wonderful comments on my iPhone. Wow. What a great post. What a great group of readers.Thanks to Warren and P82, especially, for beautiful accounts of their own faith experiences!And for the mother of a child who died of SIDS, I still have nothing personal to offer (yesterday, I offered Dylan Thomas, or as Frank would say, Sheee-eeesh!). Today, I came across an article by a parent who lost a child tragically, and it may at least offer some consolation. Here it is.http://catholicexchange.com/2010/01/06/125800/

  • Maria

    Dear Warren:All which I took from thee I did but take, Not for thy harms,But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms. All which thy child's mistakeFancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home : Rise, clasp My hand, and come !" Halts by me that footfall : Is my gloom, after all,Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly ? "Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am He Whom thou seekest !Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest me." I don' t have to tell you: Hound of HeavenGerald Manley HopkinsThank you so very much. We all need a bright light.

  • Warren Jewell

    Webster, so good to hear of your daughter's arriving 'Home'. Congratulations to all.Catholic Exchange is a site I visit at least once a day. I posted that very story of that family tragedy leading to the Lord's pouring His consoling faith on them. I led the post with my reflection that "if for no other reason, unable to come up with words to match this tragic story of both grief and faith in action, and grace in gentle if awful splendor. Please, just read it . . ."Funny how things come together: in comment I again related death’s story to Sharon, my little patroness among the saints, and how my faith has grown like the very mountain to move: Comment>: I remember when I lost my wife, Sharon, lo these now over twenty-seven years ago, that my one certainty was in God’s loving salvation for her. It gave me comfort and consolation that have had to buoy one who is by nature a lonely and sad man; I lost the one best friend I had; I lost the one person who let me belong with her. To this day, that my daughter, Heléna, no longer has her Mom near, that her babies Rachel, Erik and Talli never knew Sharon can bring me to racking sobs for their loss. But, as God now has her, and she will never suffer again herself, I have found peace even in grieving turmoil I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies.And, it continues to yield powerful growth in faith to this day. And, maybe only such suffering can yield such potent faith. It is as if in my sad grief my very Father in heaven sweeps through His angels and saints to stand by me, to be with me, to take me to Himself, and hold me to Himself in my sorrow. In my prayers, I frequently bemoan that I cannot effectively share my faith, that others much notice let alone seek to emulate.We can call out in suffering, “Why, O Lord, WHY?” But, His answers are constant: “Because in your weakness and sins, you cannot see My love even in what makes you suffer. For, as My Son suffered to save you, and threw open heaven’s gates for you; you, too, must suffer to save you, in throwing off sin’s condemnation and taking on My graces. Come – you have reason to weep – weep on Me." You know, my kind friends, I don't want to say that "I live because they (Sharon, et al) died", but we do indeed live because the Son of God died. However my life is testimony to Him, born to die and rise again for me, plus that He 'raised' His Church for me, it is also testimony that His gifts of others for me also demand of me this survival that permits my faith to blossom.Then again, when I encounter such a gallery of Catholics seeking faith in love and freedom in such truth at YIMC, Catholic Exchange, etc., I again can end up weeping. I would so love to share you with Sharon looking over my shoulder; and we would laugh and take hope in meeting you – together.In faith, I hope one 'day when days are gone' to introduce you to Sharon at the very foot of His throne in His heavenly kingdom. In that joy, overwhelming, though, permit my tears one more time. Deeply touched – Have I not Him, and His heaven, and the friends He gave me? And, how could I not be humbled that the Lord made His eternal triumph our own? I ask again, more fully: if we didn't have our Lord, just what would we have? God bless, and bless abundantly.

  • http://tonylayne.blogspot.com/ Anthony S. “Tony” Layne

    So many perceptive, gentle yet profound thoughts! Frank, you deserve kudos for pulling Pascal out and opening his thoughts up.I too have lost my father, though it's been eight years and the pain has ebbed. And my brother and his wife lost a child who was born with a congenital heart defect many years ago. So my heart goes out to you and to the friend of Anonymous 1.We must continue to strive, at least as a community, in coming to an intellectually satisfying theodicy. Yet even the most elegant theory must seem like so many matchsticks when Death, especially in connection with other evils, stares us in the face. How can we dare to think any intellectual construct will suffice at a moment when even Our Lord himself could cry, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me" (Mk 15:34)?The only answer I have is the reductio ad horribilem: The opposite possibility is too terrible to contemplate. In the opposite scenario, children who die of SIDS, young women who are raped and murdered, have no God of whom we can demand an explanation, from whom we can expect justice, comfort or even (at the very least) vengeance. Our lives, in this case, are an accident, so it matters not whether we go gentle into that good night or are hurled forcibly into eternity. Even if it were in any sense true, how would it be of greater comfort?If anyone can think of a better, more sympathetic way to phrase this, I'm in your debt. In the meantime, though, listening non-defensively and apologizing seems the best path until the worst of the grief is over.Gratia Dei vobiscum.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Tony:Reading the stories of the Saints that were martyred really makes you marvel at the depth of their faith. And for those of us with illnesses or who may see "the train pulling into the station", I wouldn't hesitate to utilize the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick.If I need a surgery, and I am conscious, I am going to always ask for this Sacrament. And obviously, if I am on my death bed. It is another Grace given to us by the Church (see James 5:13-16) which,indeed, helps "free us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Our Lord,and Savior, Jesus Christ." Amen.Thank you for your comment.


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