“Catholicism … a beautiful religion, in which to die.”

Oliver-Wendell-HolmesThe famous American jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes, once said, “Catholicism is not an easy religion to live, but it is a beautiful religion, in which to die.”

That quote seems to be an appropriate one for how this week has been.  We have had a lot of funerals.  In fact we have three today.  It has also been a very busy week with calls to the hospital and nursing homes for “last rites.”

The Church’s Rites of Christian Burial are truly beautiful, and filled with rich symbolism.  However, I do not think that is what Justice Holmes was referring to when he said that Catholicism is “a beautiful religion, in which to die.”  Rather, I believe that he was speaking about our beliefs about death.  Simply put, we believe that this life is not the goal of our existence.  While we do need to value and fully participate in this life, we are also to live this life with a certain detachment and anticipation for the life to come.  That is the reason for our hope.

During funeral liturgies I preach a lot about hope.  The word hope has often been reduced in our society to be little more than wishful thinking.  We say things like, “I hope I win the lottery” or “I hope my team wins the championship.”  Really what we are saying is that I wish these things happen.  There is, of course, little certainty of these things happening.  However, Christian hope is much more certain than that.  Christian hope is a certainty about the future based on a certainty in the present.  Namely, because of our living faith in Jesus Christ, and our present relationship with Him, we know that He will keep His promises to us.  Jesus promised us that if we live a life of faith in Him, then even if we die we will enjoy eternal life, the blessed life, with Him in heaven.

It is this hope, this certainty which counters despair, that I think that Justice Holmes found so beautiful about the Catholic religion.  How about us?  Do we keep our eyes fixed on heaven, and have hope in eternal life?  Do we see and appreciate the beauty of our Catholic faith?


About Fr. JC

Ordained a priest for the Diocese of Trenton, NJ, in 2004. Currently the Pastor of Resurrection Parish in Delran, NJ.
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