How we face death reveals our love for life

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: Don’t miss ‘the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century’

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Don’t miss ‘the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century’

Denver’s Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition brings to life Judaism at time of Jesus

Vladimir Mauricio-Perez

“Welcome to Israel, the Biblical land of milk and honey at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and Asia… an archaeologist’s paradise”: These words mark the start of a once-in-a-lifetime immersion into ancient Israel that the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition brings to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science March 16 to Sep. 3.

The exhibition, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Denver, not only displays the authentic Dead Sea Scrolls that have captivated millions of believers and non-believers around the world, but also a timeline back to Biblical times filled with ancient objects that date back to events written about in the Old Testament more than 3,000 years ago.

“We are convinced that the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the Judean desert are the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century,” said Dr. Uzi Dahari, deputy director of the Israel Antiquities. “These scrolls, written in Hebrew, are the oldest copy of the Bible.”

In fact, some of these manuscripts are almost a thousand years older than the oldest copies of the Bible that had been discovered, providing a great wealth of knowledge about Judaism at the time of Jesus.

“So many things have changed [since this discovery],” said Dr. Michael Barber, professor of Scripture and Theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver. “We now understand first-century Judaism in a way we didn’t in the past and see how the Biblical authors are breathing the same air as other ancient Jews.”

An exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science will be on display until Sept. 3. (Photos by Andrew Wright | Denver Catholic)

The air of first-century Israel was filled with expectations for the coming of the Messiah. The Dead Sea Scrolls, which have been associated with a unique religious Jewish community that lived a structured life, are a witness to this reality, he explained.

“[These communities] were trying to live in such a way as to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. They looked forward to a new covenant and the restoration of the glory of Adam” Dr. Barber said. “We see so many overlaps of how the New Testament is a fulfillment of the Jewish expectations of the time.”

The exhibition immerses guests into the history of the chosen people of God, from artifacts impressed with seals belonging to Biblical kings, such as Hezekiah, to an authentic stone block that fell from Jerusalem’s Western Wall in 70 AD.

“We preferred to select scientifically important items, some very small, some very large… but all of great significance,” Dr. Dahari said.

“Israel’s archaeological sites and artifacts have yielded extraordinary record of human achievement,” added Dr. Risa Levitt Kohn, curator of the exhibit and professor at San Diego State University. “The pots, coins, weapons, jewelry and other artifacts on display in this exhibition constituted a momentous contribution to our cultural legacy. They teach us about the past, but they also teach us about ourselves.”