They say that deaths come in threes and they seem to be right.
Last week we had the funeral of M’s grandfather, the family patriarch. He was a saintly man who exemplified Christian fortitude in the face of some very difficult situations in life facing them with courage and a surprising quiet joy. He passed at the age of 93, still active and in control of his faculties. It was the inevitable end of a life well lived.
On the day of his funeral, we got word that one of the arch-deacons of the diocese had lost her fight to pancreatic cancer. She and M had worked together at M’s previous parish and they were pretty close. At the Holy Week Chrism Mass, M had made plans to get together with her next week. Heading into the viewing two nights ago, we passed a small knot of women clergy who were also M’s friends; we exchanged pleasantries as we passed them on our way into the parish house.
Late last night my blackberry started going crazy; the Cafe news team wanted to know if the family was ok. Googling to find out what had happened I quickly understood their concern: two women had been shot, one fatally, at a local historically Anglo-Catholic parish. One of the victims was the co-rector who is currently on life-support and not expected to make it.
I had just said hello to her the previous night going into the viewing. Now she lies at the point of death. [Update: I have received word that she has died from her wounds.]
Two things are fixed in my mind. The first is thinking about M. How often has she been alone in the church–or with just the parish admin beside her? Far too many. Just a slight shift of location and this story could have been one about her.
The second is resolve about our proclamation. Too often I see people in and from our church willing to soft-pedal or water down our teachings in order to appear more appealing and palatable to the “cultured despisers of religion.” We want them to know that we shouldn’t be lumped in with Young Earth Creationists and the like. I get that—I don’t want to be lumped in with those people either. On the other hand, we do proclaim some damn important things that we have no business being apologetic about.
Death is a reality. In a culture that wants to hide from it and disguise it as much as possible, it’s got to be said. I look at Grand-daddy’s death and I see the inevitable result of the natural process of life. We will (and do) miss him terribly, but his was a good death that respected the arc of the natural cycles of life and death in which our incarnate bodies are bound. I find it harder to see the arch-deacon’s passing in the same way. Yes, the cancer that took her was “natural” but I cannot help but see her arc sadly fore-shortened. There is nothing good or natural in the shooting. This is death as the enemy, death not as a completion of life but a mockery of it. And that leads to a crucial second point.
Sin is a reality. While we have no details around the crime, there is no doubt in my mind that at its root is the sin and evil that seeks to corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. The church must stand as an implacable enemy of this sin and its virulence. We dither about mission and budgets and lose sight of teaching the basic vocabulary of habits and grammar of virtue that form Christian character. For it is the formation of the character of the Body of Christ according to the Mind of Christ that is our best work against evil.
Lastly, resurrection is a reality. It’s not just a theory. It’s not something that we debate in salons to then set aside quietly when our skeptical friends look down on us with pity for our attachment to superstition. It’s something that we live and live with most perfectly in the face of both death and sin. Resurrection doesn’t mean pretending that death doesn’t exist. Resurrection is a hope that we proclaim as a fitting and natural correlary to a life like Grand-daddy’s; resurrection is a challenge and a defiance we cast into the face of sin and evil.
The secular modern worldview grounded in materialistic empiricism leads to nihilism at its worst and a sensible humanism at its best. Materialistic empiricism is a great way to explore the world but is insufficient for explaining it and making meaning from it. It is utterly tone-deaf to the deeper poetry of the life-in-God proclaimed in the catholic sacramental worldview that we have inherited. Our proclamation of resurrection in the face of sin and death is a witness to the truth of the greater poetry that love and life have the last word in the face of evil, death, and sin. Why would we willingly apologize the poetry away?
Please pray for the departed—those known to us and those unknown—and for us who remain.