(Editor’s note: Deacon Frank Agnoli presents the ninth in his series of articles on the healing sacraments. He is director of liturgy and of deacon formation for the Davenport Diocese.)
As we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, perhaps this is a good point in our series to pause and review what the Church teaches about “the last things,” or “eschatology.” Then we will turn our attention back to how we care for the sick, the dying, the dead and the bereaved.
Of course, much more can be said about eschatology — about death and judgment; about heaven and hell and purgatory — than can fit in a brief article like this one. Readers may want to look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) Nos. 1020-1050 or at chapter 13 in the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults. So what follows is, of necessity, just an overview.
What is death? From a strictly biological point of view, death is that moment when an organism stops functioning as a unified whole. Theologically, we talk about death being the objective separation of the body and soul. But there is much more going on here. Subjectively, death is also the end of our individual histories — the time that we can choose for or against God. Death also brings with it our final decision: do we approach it afraid of annihilation and meaninglessness, or do we make our deaths our final act of self-surrender and trust?
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