How we face death reveals our love for life

Mt Olivet Selects-22

Gary Schaaf is the Executive Director for the Archdiocese Mortuary and Cemeteries.

“Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect” – Pope Francis, Day for Life Greeting, July 17.

As the Executive Director for the Archdiocese Mortuary and Cemeteries, I have a unique vantage point from which I reverently watch people struggle with some of life’s most profound questions, including “What happens when we die?” On almost a daily basis, I see people dealing with the impact of losing a loved one, wondering what happens next. As though life were an ocean, death seems to propel many people into deeper waters.

What strikes me as obvious after watching these families grapple with the death of a loved one is the depth of loss that is felt by all families, regardless of the age of their loved one. Our Catholic faith teaches us about the dignity afforded each and every life, regardless of age. From the widow who has lost her beloved spouse after 50 years of marriage, to the young parents dealing with the loss of their baby only months after conception, we see real loss and real grieving. We are reminded in each of these circumstances that neither the size, condition, nor age of one’s body impacts the reality of their soul.

One day every month, we bury babies who have died in utero. As sad an event as this is, watching the reverence for the lives of these young souls makes me deeply proud of my Catholic faith. Many families participate in this service, which we provide at no cost. It is clear that all present are impacted and that not one of those young souls will be forgotten. It is also clear that the depth of loss is hard to understand for someone who has not experienced it – an observation gleaned from watching the empathetic embraces between mothers who are going through these services at the same time.

Although difficult in so many ways, it is also moving to hear the stories of those who have accompanied a loved one at the end of a long life through the suffering that so often accompanies death. Much more often than not, we see how these difficult trials draw families together in ways that were never anticipated. Frankly, we see pure, self-sacrificing love on display in ways that words can only partially describe.

Observing the sacred moments surrounding the deaths of the faithful departed has only strengthened my faith in our Church and our collective mission to protect the lives of all who are living, from the moment of conception through natural death.

Although I never anticipated my job at a Catholic Cemetery would so significantly impact my perspective on life, I feel privileged to have witnessed people of faith handle with grace and courage the reality of death, and further privileged to share those observations.

COMING UP: What does “bearing witness” to our culture look like?

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What does “bearing witness” to our culture look like?

Rev. Paul Scalia calls us to imitate ancient prophets in final lecture of Archbishop’s Series

Therese Aaker
Screenshot 2017-03-22 11.49.54

Bearing witness to our culture hangs on this deeply personal question: “Are we convinced that what has been given to us will satisfy the human heart?”

It’s a question that Reverend Paul Scalia, son of late Justice Antonin Scalia, asked the crowd in his talk March 21, the final lecture of the season in the Archbishop’s Lecture Series.

Listen to the full talk here

Titled “The Word of the Lord Came to Me…,” his talk explained how ancient prophets show us how to be examples of our faith in our modern culture. The most important lesson from their stories is that we first have deep conviction in that which we bear witness to.

“Authenticity requires that these words come from within us — only our personal investment in the Gospel can make us authentic prophets,” Reverend Scalia said.

We especially need to be connected to that firm conviction inside ourselves in the areas where the culture needs it most; namely, marriage and family life, Reverend Scalia said.

He outlined other various areas where we can imitate the ancient prophets, who were seen as “odd” in their respective countries at the time. He referred to Flannery O’Connor, who is attributed to the quote, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”

“Bearing witness to the truth might make you odd,” Reverend Scalia said. The ancient prophets were often seen as outsiders in their own homes, and we must be ready to not fit in as well. We are “strangers in a strange land,” especially as people in our culture are increasingly indifferent toward religion.

“This religious indifference is a challenge for the Church as well. [We’ve] had to scale back. Denver is fairly unique in its growth,” Reverend Scalia said.

March 21, 2017, Denver, Colorado Archbishop Lecture Series featuring Fr. Paul Scalia, a priest from the Diocese of Arlington speaking on the topic of the importance of prophetic Catholic witness in the culture today. Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic

March 21, 2017, Denver, Colorado Archbishop Lecture Series featuring Fr. Paul Scalia, a priest from the Diocese of Arlington speaking on the topic of the importance of prophetic Catholic witness in the culture today. Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic

He said that we also need to be witnesses to both the past and the future. This doesn’t mean we are harbingers of doom; rather, we “proclaim not what will happen, but what God has already done,” Reverend Scalia said.

“The failure to remember what God has done creates a mistrust of what God will do in the future,” Reverend Scalia continued. “Our role should be one of giving hope, especially to those who are suffering.”

Our testimony message needs to be this hope, “that the Lord is trustworthy,” he said.

He also noted that acts of charity and the suffering we experience for love of God and neighbor are the biggest opportunities to bear bold witness to our culture.

“If we aren’t suffering, we are compromising on our love of the Lord, or of our love for people,” Reverend Scalia said. “The Lord allows suffering as a way of understanding the sadness and pain in his own heart.”

“Suffering, in the end, is the most convincing witness to the truth,” he added.