Catholic Phoenix


You are going to die.

St. Jerome Writing, by Caravaggio

You are going to die. You know this and have known this since you were quite young, yet somehow you go about your day in a kind of fitful denial, activity attempting to cast the light of men onto the shadow of death.

Part of your problem is you’re a Christian; your theological worldview has subtly contained your death in a borrowed hope, a totalizing hope, a hope that makes death look insignificant. You claim the resurrection and you boldly echo the words of St. Paul, “Oh death where is they victory…where is thy sting?”

So, yes, you’re going to die, but for you it is of minor consequence, like the caterpillar’s metamorphosis. For you, your death is an ellipsis. And it is here I want to tell you that you play the part in a great tragedy. And that yours is a worse tragedy than those of Sophocles. For in them the characters attempt to struggle against their fate, even in the midst of the horrid determinism. You, however, are wholly ignorant of what awaits you. You dance and dine and move about the stage of your life with death as a lover, veiled in white, submissive and silent. You have recreated death in your own image; a further extension of your busy life so that it is no real death at all, it is a conquering.

Jesus Conquered Death

This tragedy is an unintended consequence, of course. It is, in some sense, the consequence of an excess of virtue, of Faith. What is especially insidious about this tragedy is how what you believed was an increase of Faith, was only the increase of ignorance, the blinding of your mind. You made Faith your own, a compliment to your soul, which you covet like an elixir. And you believe this Faith you have will save you from death. You are wrong. You will not get out of this life alive. You really are going to die.

But, you see, you have forgotten what this means. In the hope gifted to you from above, you have confused its significance with the death event. Your hope has become your confusion and your confusion has cheapened your hope. You are like the trust-fund child, daily aware of his inheritance. And with every passing day, the incalculable riches gifted to you only obscure the great sacrifice undertaken in their accumulation. You have forgotten your poverty. In your great inheritance you have thought yourself wealthy. You have come to believe that Faith is a liquid asset, ready for immediate transaction. You forget the account is not in your name. You forget your death is your bankruptcy.

And in your forgetting, you misplace your very self. In fact, in your forgetting you’ll find that what you thought you had, even that, will be taken from you in death. Because in your trivializing of death you have trivialized your life. A sham death knows no students.

Matthaeus 27:46—Et circa horam nonam clamavit Iesus voce magna dicens: “ Eli, Eli, lema sabacthani?”, hoc est: “ Deus meus, Deus meus, ut quid dereliquisti me? ”

What you must recapture is the frightening reality that your death is your annihilation. It is your end. It is your abject anonymity. It is to hear the words, “I do not know you.” It is to be forsaken.

Your death is the end of your life, the tearing of the fabric of your being, the ripping apart of your soul and body.

Death leaves behind only two abominations: a corpse and a ghost.

And your death is immanent and it is everything you deserve. Your death is ever on the horizon and it brings with it no hope. In your death you are defenseless for it is the suicide of a prideful will parading as liberation. Death is the existential claim of one’s right to one’s self.

You die because you hate God. You die because you hate God. You die because you hate God.

Now, go before the altar and contemplate its blood.

34 comments | Add one of your own.

  1. Reginaldus

    “You will not get out of this life alive. You really are going to die.”
    Sed Contra: “Not all shall fall asleep, but all shall be changed.” (1 Cor 15:51).
    Respondeo: Only those will die who are not alive at the second coming of Christ. As this could be any moment, it is not certain that I will die.

    “Death leaves behind only two abominations: a corpse and a ghost.” Poetry! Beautiful and precise.

    “Your death is your annihilation. It is your end. It is your abject anonymity.” Yes! Very true! Until the general resurrection, the dead are not human and have not their identity.

    After writing such a morbid article (and I love morbid articles!), you need to smoke a cigar/cigarette, drink a beer/scotch/glass of wine, and read a Father Brown Story — balance!


    1. Larry

      Not sure I like the tone. Yes I will die unless I live to see the Second Coming of Christ. No I am not annihilated. I still exist. Neither my corpse, which was until my death, a temple of the Holy Spirit, nor my ghost which is immortal is an abomination. As for abject anonymity, God knows me and that is all that is important. And no I do not die because I hate God. I die because my first parents did not trust God.
      Yes death is not pretty and corpses even less so. That is real; but, hope is even more real. Judgment? Ah now there is the rub! If I think I can eat drink and smoke cigars and just wander into God’s Kingdom I have a problem. But if I consider the last things and keep before my eyes the Day of Wrath I should be able to find comfort in the company many on their way to heaven even as I pay my debt in purgatory.


      1. Reginaldus

        Larry, What is your beef with scotch and cigars? The mere mention of them seems to hoist you onto a Puritanical soap-box…

        It is very good to think about death, to admit just how terrible death is (that it is an abomination, that it destroys the unity of the human person); and yet, at the same time, we ought to enjoy what is good in life. This is what is so great about Catholics — we have room for G.K. Chesterton and Flannery O’Connor, for St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas, for St. Philip Neri and St. Jerome…

        What will certainly not do, however, is to refuse to admit that death is what it is and (at the same time) to refuse the legitimate enjoyments of this life…this seems to be your path…


  2. gb

    I hope this is supposed to be some kind of (poor) Screwtape parody. If not, maybe just a way to drive traffic to your site…well, you just lost my hits.


    1. Denys

      As Flannery O’Connor once wrote: When peoples is deaf you have to scream a bit.

      And if people are stone deaf, all the screaming in the world won’t avail.


    2. J. Hanson


      You probably think this post is as effective as a Screwtape parody as I think your comment is as a threat…though I did appreciate your use of the ellipsis for dramatic effect.

      If the content of CP displeases you, please say why with some specificity. It helps forward a dialogue.


    1. J. Hanson

      As the one responsible for prepping CP posts, I own up to my share in the typographical responsibility for “immanent.” Perhaps I was thinking, though, that the point about death was that it was “existing or operating within; inherent”—definitive of me as a mortal—rather than one more thing that happens to be “about to happen”—like taxes (which are certain to happen, but not quite so definitive of my life on earth).

      Oh well. It’s ‘imminent’ now.


  3. Paul E.

    In my recent contemplation of the phrase “Jesus died for me” I have come to recognize its language as, well, metaphysical, if not obtuse. I asked myself how much more would it mean to me, rationally, if it were “Jesus died instead of me”. And yet I ask if it does not mean that precisely what does it mean to mortal ears?

    In the difference between the two lies the comic pathos Chesterton saw in the human condition, “more heartbreaking than any music, … more startling than any caricature”. The Christian recognizes the futility of rational means to ensure life, while unable to abandon them on pain of sin. He hears love command he reduce himself, against all reason, to advance the other, knowing both must in the end fail. He must eschew the distractions that permit the unbeliever to imitate unawareness of death, and the despair that drives the unbeliever to distraction in the first place. Finally, he must, apparently, suffer the same agonies and the same death as he who does not believe.

    I agree we do not make enough of the profound and grave omnipresence of death. I have come to see it as a near-Freudian defense mechanism to protect the psyche. At the same time, the impossible bankruptcy of the human condition make the necessity of the Incarnation, life, Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ manifest.


  4. Cordelia

    Very nice, teacher, and very intense……I agree with you that there is the lack of viewing death for what it is. I think the less we are confronted with the reality of death–there’s a dead body in a car accident bent over the steering wheel or a dead animal, guts spewed all over in the road…..Wow….They are never coming back to life….What just happened?….Fear or repulsion manifesting itself in warmth or a shudder. Ultimately, yes, everything that gives us earthly pleasure, even knowledge, is vanity! Yet, If we only had the grace of knowing when we are going to die, we would feel the permission to enjoy life, don’t you think?

    I remember when the Phoenix Art Museum had that exhibit, The Dutch Masters, featuring works by Rembrandt and many still lifes of the vanitas genre. ( ) My initial reaction to seeing such beautiful still lifes, with skulls or other reminders of the “bankruptcy of life” was thinking this is not beautiful. I feel differently now. Thanks for the post. We could all use an urgent reminder, besides the Mass, that life is fleeting and that our souls are what need tending to.


  5. The Reverend Doctor Victoria A. Howard, Anchoress

    Among my writings, I remark that one day God will have no mercy and we will all die. But death is indeed merciful most of the time. Who would want to live on in the prison of a impossibly sick body? Death is sweet. Depression is the only cause of man’s fears of death. Have you considered being treated by a psychiatrist? Have you never seen a miracle? Are Christ’s arresting and divine words just another lie? There is too much of the supernatural in life for us to think that our brute nature is all, and that there is no God. Life itself is a miracle, because of the fragility of our bodies. Something holds them in existence and continues them in being. Otherwise, a human body would fall apart all the time. Do you see the order in DNA? Have you studied astrophysics? All of this makes even men as brilliant as scientists believe in God. Scientists know that prayer works, because they have tested it. C’mon, wake up my friend from that nightmare you are in and face the facts – if you do, you will cry from joy!


    1. J. Hanson

      “Have you considered being treated by a psychiatrist?” Have you considered Googling “Vivian Schiller and Juan Williams”?

      The tactic of attributing a position you disagree with to a psychological disorder mars on otherwise thoughtful comment.


    2. Mr. Rational

      “Depression is the only cause of man’s fears of death.” That, and the ramblings of religions con-artists. “Are Christ’s arresting and divine words just another lie?” Yup, and we can prove it! “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. ” [1 Timothy 2:12] Un-huh. Riiiiiiiight! Tell that to the sisters teaching boys [men] in Catholic grade schools. Kind of contradictory….
      “Scientists know that prayer works, because they have tested it.” What a crock of s#&%! REAL scientists have tested prayer, and it NEVER works. NEVER! Here is another proof: tonight, hit your knees and pray to your sky-guy to wipe out cancer. Guess what? Tomorrow morning, cancer’s still going to be around. Why?
      “our brute nature is all, and that THERE IS NO GOD.
      Good! You finally got it.
      FYI, us atheists, agnostics and humanist will be putting on a full court press to educate the masses of humanity that god is a lie and they can live quite a good and moral life withOUT religion.
      Your days as an influence on society are numbered!


      1. Mary

        GOD IS NOT A RELIGION! Thinking that He is, will never allow you to know what you have missed in knowing the true living God.

        Religion is a man made organization to describe, characterize, authenticate for others and to bring those of this ‘like thinking’ together, to support this characterization. This is egoic thinking for power and control. Our ego is the seat of all suffering and desire, constantly competing within us for control and power. It is our ego who LIES to us about who we really are. It is our ego that desires to be the ONE and ONLY power house with total control of our own lives. Giving into the ego brings sufferring because we can NEVER live up to who our ego says we are on any given day.

        God, on the other hand, IS the GROUND of ALL BEING of which every plant, animal and man belong. To personify Him into a man made set of concepts, limits God and also limits one’s thinking about who God is and who we are. Therefore, it is reasonable and rational to say that if God is the Ground of All Being and we are ‘Beings’ in the ALL, then not only is God indeed significant and real, so are each and every one of us.

        Can you say that your body is not made up of cells or that each cell has a significant and important part in the functioning of your entire body? Do you have any choice in which cells become part of the ‘Being’ called You? The evolution of your DNA through time has resulted in a Being called You. The original DNA came from a molecular genetic “Tool Kit” for things that are round, stick out, have hair, have sight, etc.. Read Sean Carroll’s book, “Endless Forms of Beautiful” where he explains this concept and the new science of EVO DEVO or check out this website –

        Where did this ‘Tool Kit’ originate from? What image and genetic material did it derive from? The answer to this is quite lengthy, but astrophysists say it is from a previous universe that exploded to create our universe. There are 9 universes in the one multi-universe that scientists know of today. The creation and destruction of universes have been happening eternally in the space and time continuum. Our universe had a beginning and it will have an end which will create a beginning for another universe with its materials. The cycle continues eternally. This IS the principle behind the word GOD. God is NOT a religion or anything personified by man for his purposes.

        To deny that the thing that we call God exists, is denying that WE EXIST. Without the primary source of life, that IS, the thing we call God, there is NO LIFE, physically. Without a physical life there can be no understanding of, or knowning of, a spiritual life either. Living a good and moral life without Religion is indeed freeing, but living life with the principle of a God in it, brings a life of goodness and morality to a deeper and higher level. Enlightenment, awareness or wisdom of who we are as a species and as an individual comes from this heightened awareness of something bigger than ourselves, but also something bigger that is contained within ourselves. You may call this God, energy, light, love, life, total consciousness, universal knowledge, or the Ground of All Being, but this ‘thing’ is the same under all names.

        As an influence on society, religion may or may not be numbered. What IS numbered and has no influence on society is the concept that considers the ego to be the all, and end all, of it all. That ego concept changes with every emotion that besets man and cannot be depended upon.

        Cancer was never a possibility in the design completed by the Ground of All Being. Cancer is the result and circumstance of men’s self-agrandisement, self-seeking choices and selfish actions upon a perfect design. Pollution in our water and air; ceasely stress and anxiety; pre-packaged convenience foods; poor dietary habits, lack of exercise and chemical dependency are the biggest culprits for contracting cancer. Genetic evolution has predisposed some families and races to many types of cancers as a result of generations of living in a certain area or way. It is not God’s responsibility to clean up after our physical lives, it is His desire to clean up after our spiritual lives. Get out of your head and into your heart to see where we really reside and who we really are. We are Beings who can never really die or be hurt in any way and we live everywhere the living God resides.


      2. C.S. Thomas Aquinas

        You take it out of context, Paul was giving pastoral instructions to Timothy, a man well versed. The verse you take out, 1 Timothy 2:12, of context is specifically addressing Men and Women in the Liturgy, not the classroom. In context:

        I desire then that in every place men should pray. lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. yet woman will be save through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

        Now, let’s look at what your verse is actually saying. 2:12 I permit no woman to teach: Not an absolute prohibition that applies to all circumstances, but one that excludes women from the teaching ministry exercised by ordained clergymen (1 Cor 14:34-35). Paul is not denying the equal dignity of men and women in Christ (Gal 3:28) or the propriety of women in praying and prophesying within the context of worship (1 Cor 11:5). Women perform an invaluable service when they teach the faith in other contexts by their words and Christian example (Tit 2:3-4). According to Church teaching, Paul forbids women to exercise the official function of teaching in the Christian assembly (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Inter insigniores [1976], 4).

        2:12-16 Paul’s teaching on women and gender roles has its basis in Genesis 2-3. The creation of Adam first appears in Gen 2:7, and then Eve is formed in Gen 2:21-22. Mention that Eve was deceived is a reference to her words in Gen 3:13. Also, the subordination of woman to the authority of man, along with her difficult task of bearing children, recalls the penitential curse laid upon Even in Gen 3:16. note that Paul is not attempting to downplay sin of Adam by shifting attention to Eve; he is fully aware of the disaster caused by the rebellion of the first man (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:22).

        So, Mr. Rational. I suppose your rational argument that because nuns are teaching in the classroom we’re not following our own word, is irrational.

        Your cancer argument is not rational either, God gave us suffering to bring us closer, why would he take that away?

        That is fine, you’ve been putting on a full court press for a long time, the problem is that you have no one to fill your roll, so even if you did speak the truth, you’d die out before it reach any significant amount of people.


  6. Tony Layne

    Thank you very much for shaking us out of our complacency. It’s disturbing precisely because it hits us right in the self-image—that most vulnerable spot. Christ’s triumph over death loses meaning if we allow ourselves to think of death as anything less than a monstrous abomination. Not only will we lose all material wealth, we will be spiritually naked: stripped of our illusions, our defense mechanisms, our pathetic excuses, our protestations of good intentions and perpetual victimhood. God already sees it; at that moment, though, we will know as we have been known (cf. 1 Cor 13:12). Our imagined triumphal cry will transform itself into a cringing, weeping plea: Miserere mei, Domine! Only then will we fully realize the depths of God’s love.

    Thanks again!


  7. 2 cents worth

    I am not very smart. The writer and responders are much more articulate and adept than myself but I thought I could put in a humble 2 cents worth…
    From my point of view it is not the fault of faith that makes us so “presumptive” and ingratious of salvation and therefore unfazed by death. The finger might be more accurately pointed at the many who live with one leg in faith and the other leg in the world.
    Also, do you think that there are many who scoff death, not because they do not grasp its enormity but precisely because they do and intend to live a joyful, Christ filled life anyway?
    All said, I really enjoyed reading this article, minus the chant at the end. (Seemed a little creepy even to read it).


  8. Jon White

    “We could all use an urgent reminder, besides the Mass, that life is fleeting and that our souls are what need tending to.” I agree entirely, and, among other reminders, I use images of the Shroud of Turin as “wallpaper” and screen savers on my PC at work and at home. There, they serve as constant – and, many times, opportune – reminders to me (and, I hope, others) of the super-natural reality in which we all exist, but of which, unfortunately, not all are at present aware.


  9. Scott W

    Thank you Erik. This is among the more unsettling writings that I have read in recent memory, not because I disagree with it but rather am convicted by it. Paul E’s comments summarized well my discomfort yet the recognition that we need to keep persevering. Especially unsettling is the understanding of the huge responsibility we have undertaken with our vocation as fathers, and that how we live our life impacts not just us but those whom we have been chosen as stewards.

    Please continue to use your gift of this means of evangelization to challenge us. Heaven knows I need it.


  10. Laurence England

    Very good, until the end. The Lord does not treat His servants with contempt, especially when they are contrite. Neither do we die because we ‘hate’ God. We die because we inherit the effects which entered into the World through the fall of our first parents. Death is awful and terrifying, but the Lord is ‘compassion and love’. Do not try and cure presumption by portraying He who is love, as merciless.


    1. Cordelia

      However, Laurence, if one were to persist in falling back into serious sin on a daily basis even after frequent confession and awareness of God’s mercy, one would not be living as though death were immanent. If we love God, we will follow His commands. When we don’t follow His commands it’s a turning away from God, it really means that we did not show God love even though we might have feelings of love for Him.


  11. marcy

    Laurence you are speaking from the heart of St Francis
    E Twist is speaking from the heart of St Alphonsus Ligouri

    The difference is not so much how God is but how we live and behave and then how God is.

    Love God with all your heart
    Love God with all your heart
    Love God with all your heart
    : )
    Marcy M


  12. Kerberos

    “You die because you hate God.
    You die because you hate God.
    You die because you hate God.”

    What utter bilge. And utterly unChristian – this self-absorbed, despairing, semi-pagan, tripe is as far removed from the NT as it is possible to get.

    Death is insignificant – “Jesus Christ has abolished death”, as St.Paul says; so this magnification of it absurd. It is not to be feared, for it cannot separate us from Christ – as St.Paul also says.

    “…The Lord does not treat His servants with contempt, especially when they are contrite. Neither do we die because we ‘hate’ God. We die because we inherit the effects which entered into the World through the fall of our first parents. Death is awful and terrifying, but the Lord is ‘compassion and love’. Do not try and cure presumption by portraying He who is love, as merciless.”

    Well said – there’s enough of God the Devil, the God of Infinite Hate, in the more pathological perversions of hyper-Calvinism at its worst, without such blasphemous rubbish being brought into Catholicism. Presumption is not cured by despair. A far better solution would be to encourage appreciation of God’s grace, & thanksgiving for it – for grace is another form of God’s Love, which is why it depends on nothing in us.