© Bruce Allen October 27, 2021
This is the piece in which I expose my flimsy understanding of Catholic and Christian theology in the context of trying to deal with my wife’s death. These thoughts come to me around 4 or 5 a.m.most days when I’m sitting in a lawn chair in my driveway in the back yard, searching the stars, silently howling at the moon, feeling some sense of communion, some vague sense of her spiritual presence. Me with my coffee, she, in my head, with hers.
This got me to thinking about what Catholics (I’m a late convert) believe about death and salvation, which got me thinking about my understanding of what the majority of Protestants believe (I’m also a failed Presbyterian) on the subject. I’ll cut to the chase by stating my opinion that the Protestant take on the subject seems somewhat silly, like everyone can have their own “road to Damascus” moment. I’ll continue by saying the Catholic dogma is little better. Now that I’ve offended everyone reading this, allow me to explain.
Protestants, I’m told, believe one can be ‘saved’ while living on Earth, that they can have an encounter with the risen Lord during this life, that they can accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and can live the rest of their lives comfortable in the assurance they will go straight to heaven upon their death. Catholics, I’m told, believe that at death, one’s spirit remains, somehow, earthbound, and that those chosen by the Lord will have their souls lifted up to heaven, by Jesus in his Second Coming, on the Last Day.
One of the things I’ve accepted about being Catholic is that I will not know my eternal destination, if you will, until I pass from this life. That one can’t really claim an isolated encounter in which Jesus pronounces one saved, relieving one of any need to worship or pray or do good works from then on out. (One supposes there are no take-backs.) It’s all just too easy to say; while it may grease the skids of one’s standing in a church community, there is reason to doubt that it has, in fact, anything to do with one’s eventual spiritual destination.
The Catholic version has some holes, too. I suppose the souls that don’t go straight to hell go to this purgatory place to hang until the Last Day. But I’ve been told that some Catholics can get “Get Out of Purgatory Free” cards; don’t know what they involve. But if one rejects the concept of purgatory but accepts that these millions of souls will eventually be raised, as stated in the Bible, the question arises: what are these souls, these spirits, doing now?
Certainly we didn’t bury them in the caskets; we profess that by that time the spirit has already left the body. And they haven’t yet made their way to heaven, those that make the cut. Eliminating purgatory, which seems to be a convenient construct to explain conflicting elements of their own dogma, one is left with the conclusion that the spirits of our loved ones may be atomized in the universe, awaiting the day when they will be gathered together and reassembled. Or, better yet, they are running around loose in our world, with Nancy offering us brief, imagined glimpses of herself, or appearing openly as a female cardinal. In the homes and yards of my daughters and me. Awaiting the call on the last day.
I realize this is a superficial effort to deal with my own sense of loss. Regardless of the subject, I suppose one could argue that any 70-year old man sitting in his driveway at 4:30 in the morning weeping and muttering at the sky has a few issues. I say if one feels temporarily crazy it’s a perfectly harmless way to deal with the problem. The process, it turns out, is referred to as intellection. It entails the brain grabbing hold of an idea or problem and tossing it around, like a ball of dough in a bread machine, until some ideas start to emerge. That my problem is essentially insoluble makes for some interesting mental exercise. See above. How long this process continues is a mystery.
Those of you who knew me when I was in my 20’s and was a table-pounding agnostic are probably surprised to read this. I realize most of my FB friends lean to the left, the intellectual/scientific/skeptic side of the ledger which is fine. Perhaps it’s reassuring to find Catholics capable of declarative sentences and coherent thoughts, even if you suspect them of being deranged. People are going to believe what they want to believe. Personally, I’m playing on the safe side of Pascal’s Wager, for Nancy’s sake and my own.