Respect for the Dead

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a masterful document – I wish we Anglicans had something like it. Due to my Mom’s death, I read what it says about the treatment of the dead:

The dying should be given attention and care to help them live their last moments in dignity and peace. They will be helped by the prayer of their relatives, who must see to it that the sick receive at the proper time the sacraments that prepare them to meet the living God.
The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.
Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research. The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious.
The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.

I love how the Catechism deals with just about everything you can think of in life. I don’t like autopsies, giving organs or cremation, but the Catholic approach does seem sensible to me. And it must be comforting to know that there are answers to these things rather than simply making up an answer.

Outside the Catechism, canon law states:

ECCLESIASTICAL FUNERALS (Cann. 1176 – 1185)
§3. The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.

Is Conversion the Answer?

Rod Dreher makes several salient points about converts to Rome and Orthodoxy:

Yes, but in my personal experience, the Catholic Church in America has only a facade of unity. Every Catholic parish I’ve been a part of has been basically Protestant, insofar as most of the people seemed to believe that they had a right to believe whatever they wanted. The unity was fairly superficial. Mind you, I’m in no position to say to what extent the Orthodox Church in this country is any different, because my experience is relatively short and limited almost entirely to my own parish. But I would be surprised to learn that we Orthodox on the whole were much different in that regard.

I’ve said the same thing myself: Catholicism in the USA is just Protestantism with a different name. You have gay Jesuits, hardcore Trad Opus Dei types, the First Things crowd, EWTN, liberals like the Kennedys, and on and on. There is no unified, glorious Church. It’s an illusion in the mind of the convert who lives in the world of ideas. Dreher continues:

I keep telling Protestants I know who want to convert to Catholicism that I don’t want to get in the way of their decision — though I would like them to consider Orthodoxy — but that they should realize that they’re probably not going to find an escape from modernism in their local parish. The church of Pope Benedict and First Things magazine, and your favorite conservative Catholic bloggers, is not the church you’re likely to encounter down the street. If you’re convinced of the case for Catholicism, then you almost certainly have to become Catholic — but go in with your eyes open. Similarly with Orthodoxy, we have, like Catholicism, the institutional and historical tools for resisting modernism, but if the pastors and the people remain indifferent or hostile to them, Protestants searching for solid ground to stand on may be unpleasantly surprised.

Again, this is not an argument against becoming Catholic or Orthodox. But it is a warning that it’s impossible to escape modernity and its challenges to tradition and traditional faith. When Father Dwight says that the fissiparous nature of individualist modernist faith will eventually give way to disbelief, because it’s not anchored in communal experience, I agree with him in principle, but would ask him what his prediction is for Catholic parishes that are populated by individualists in religion? (N.B., Father Dwight recognizes in his post that modernist Catholic priests shouldn’t be surprised when people quit coming to mass.) Similarly, I am aware of several Protestant congregations who are far, far more unified in belief than any Catholic parish I’ve been a part of, no doubt because those Protestants who don’t share the core convictions of that congregation found another congregation to attend. Mind you, without a Magisterium (Catholic) or a high view of the authority of Tradition (Orthodox) to hold on to, I don’t know how those congregations over time will remain grounded in their particular judgments. But having the theological mechanism for stability, as the Catholics and the Orthodox do, is no guarantee either.

This makes lots of sense. Because Protestant churches in our day are usually based on shared convictions such as worship style or theology, we have much more unity (at the micro level) than Catholics do.

I have a friend who left the Greek Orthodox church to which he belonged, because he was desperate for a spiritual encounter with the living God, as opposed to the empty formalism of his home parish, which, as he puts it, was more interested in worshiping Greekness than in worshiping God. He became a born-again Evangelical. Despite all the legitimate criticism that can be leveled at American Evangelicalism re: its lack of stability and susceptibility to cultural trends, is it really the case that children raised in a traditional church that has valid sacraments but is spiritually dead are going to have a better chance of living as Christians there than they would in an Evangelical church that has all the trappings of modernity, and an essentially modernist, individualist theology, but that for whatever reason has chosen a theologically traditional set of principles around which to organize, and lives it out in a vigorous, vibrant way?

This is the rub. Tradition and liturgy are life to me and those like me who seek to escape the modern church wasteland, but they were death to my Mom who wanted relationship with God and wasn’t taught that in the Lutheran Church of her day (though she could have had it, had they rightly understood their own past). We can’t re-pristinate the past and create some perfect model that never existed. We can meld the best liturgy and tradition with our modern condition, all the while being bathed in the Scripture as the ultimate norm.

Scott Hahn gets pilloried!

A Catholic rips the most famous of Catholic converts here. A sample:

Such dilettantish intellectual mush that such figures as Hahn seek to feed us is very much the product of this iron age of Catholic thought. If I was to pick a legitimate criticism of this talk, and of Hahn’s “neo-Catholicism” in general, it is that I am not convinced that it is Catholic at all. When he described his first attendance at Mass, how “Patristic” the whole experience was for him, how Catholics read from the Old Testament at Mass, etc., I could only ask myself the question: “Is this man, who appears to be a smart guy, ignorant that all of these ‘reforms’ in the Mass are younger than he is? Did he really see the Catholicism of history, or was he drawn to his own vision of what he thinks the Catholic Church is? Would he have had the same experience at Mass if he had gone to one from the year of his birth?” You might think that I am splitting hairs, but I find these questions highly pertinent. For often Neo-Catholics like Hahn seem to be drawn by aspects of the Catholic Church that I would characterize as dysfunctional and illegitimate. It is the part of the Catholic Church today that is profoundly forgetful, profoundly ignorant of what the Church was like not so long ago, and only enamored with the Church insofar as it provides them with a sufficiently large bullhorn for their own strange ideas (and the book deals that go along with them). While seeking to engage the culture with its basketball gym rallies, glossy paperbacks, and events that seem to be Human Resources pep talks with a little holy water sprinkled on them, they succeed only in talking past the culture, in creating an atmosphere that is little better than a Book of the Month club, if not to say a peppy, clean-cut, bearded cult. What is missing, sadly, is tradition, with all of its boring, outdated, and inglorious burdens.