Fall 2012

Introduction: Death

David S. Crawford, in “The Gospel of Life and the Integrity of Death” discusses the contradiction in modern culture’s attitude toward death pointed out above by Ratzinger. The so-called death with dignity movement and the trend to treat aging as a disease are paradigms of the simultaneous tendencies to relativize and absolutize the importance of life. Crawford identifies the common roots of each of these seemingly opposed movements as modernity’s turn to mechanism. He goes on to contrast this attitude with the analogous Christian absolutization and relativization of life, according to which life needs to experience “something like death” in order to be a life founded in love. The technical attempts to dominate life and death, Crawford argues, are not wrong in their tendency to absolutize or relativize life; rather, these attempts go astray because they turn a proper absolutization and relativization upside down, fervently denying that there should ever be anything ‘death-like’ in love.

In “The Gift of the Dying Person,” Ruth Ashfield invites us to stop and consider the experience of those who are suffering and dying, and shows how in doing so we discover truths of the human condition that enrich and are necessary to our understanding of life. Drawing on the work of Dr. Cicely Saunders, founder of the modern hospice movement, and John Paul II, Ashfield explores a language of the suffering and dying body. In this exploration the dying person emerges as not only a witness to the dynamism of gift which lies at the heart of reality, but also as one who calls those who stay with him to true communion through genuine compassion.

Patricia Snow also explores the meaning of the body in terms of death, in “The Body and Christian Burial: The Question of Cremation.” Snow asks why cremation has again become an attractive option for many Christians, and explains that while the Church has relaxed its ban on cremation, the profound significance of funeral and burial is not to be passed over easily or quickly. “In the synthesis that was effected when the whole Christ rose from the dead,” Snow writes, “it was the supernatural affirmation of the body that was definitively new.” A casual attitude towards cremation or burial, she argues, betrays a culture-wide apathy to the mystery of the Incarnation, which effects “a marriage of flesh and spirit, heaven and earth, God and human race.”