Monday, October 31, 2016
Three Days and the Four Last Things
From All Hallows Eve, through All Saints Day, and then on All Souls Day, the Catholic Church is focused on the Four Last Things on these three days.
October 31, All Hallows Eve, is the vigil of All Saints Day and the reminder of Death, the first Four Last Thing. The ghosts and ghouls and phantoms of Halloween also remind us of Hell, which we fear, or should fear, even more than we fear Death.
November 1, All Hallows or All Saints, honors all the saints, known and unknown, those beatified and canonized and those who haven't been vetted and honored explicitly by the Church. That day is focused on Heaven.
November 2, All Souls Day, is focused on Judgment AND Heaven. Souls who have faced God's Judgment and are in need of purification prepare for Heaven in Purgatory. They have achieved salvation, but are not perfect or completely ready for Heaven. We pray for them and hope that others will pray for us when we are dead.
Throughout these three days, the theme is being united with God in Heaven forever after death by living and dying with Jesus. In the Early Church, particularly, the surest sign of this unity was the ultimate witness to Jesus as the Messiah and Savior, martyrdom. Since the Eighth Day Books Anniversary Sale (28 years!) last weekend, I've been reading Servais Pinckaers, OP's book The Spirituality of Martyrdom . . . to the Limits of Love, published by the Catholic University of America Press:
Originally published in French in 2000, The Spirituality of Martyrdom is a brief and accessible yet sweeping study of the spiritual significance attached to martyrdom in the early centuries of the Christian Church. Although studies of early Christian martyrdom have proliferated in recent decades, this book stands out by conveying to a wider audience the essence of this spirituality in its relevance to both theology and the life of every astute Christian today.
Pinckaers looks at the period from the New Testament through Augustine, with a concluding chapter tying in the theology of Thomas Aquinas. The volume is generally arranged chronologically, but also includes chapters on the 'Definition of Martyrdom,' 'Martyrdom as Eucharist' and 'Martyrdom and Eschatology' as well as more author-focused studies of the theologies of martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Tertullian, and Augustine. An up-to-date bibliography on the topic is also provided by the translators to supplement the original citations.
This book aims to illuminate the intelligibility of the Church's veneration of martyrs in relation to its fundamental beliefs and practices, and seeks to relate this intelligibility to the broader Catholic moral tradition. The introduction by Patrick Clark highlights how this volume is specifically oriented towards the fields of moral theology and Thomistic ethics in light of the other key contributions that the late Fr. Pinckaers has made to those disciplines.
Pinckaers demonstrates that martyrdom is not merely an event: there's a spirituality that is essential to the Christian life, imitating Jesus in His Passion and Death completely. Even if we are not called to martyrdom--that's a line we often hear in modern Western culture--we are called to that imitation of and identification with Christ.
He begins his discussion with the Beatitudes from the Gospels according to St. Matthew and St. Luke. The eighth Beatitude from Matthew: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" and the fourth Beatitude from Luke: "Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake." Then Pinckaers demonstrates how the early Church and subsequent theologians from St. Augustine to St. Thomas Aquinas have applied those Beatitudes to martyrdom. Soul-stirring and amazing!