Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hugo Chavez, Death, and Deadlines

Hugo Chavez has been a - colorful - leader:
He died today. I hope that Venezuela's next leader is rather more firmly rooted in reality, and less inclined to regard criticism as a threat.

I'm emphatically not going to indulge in the verbal equivalent of dancing on the former president's grave. Aside from being in dubious taste, it would be a pointless exercise. I take death, judgment, and similarly cheerful topics somewhat seriously:
Here's what started me on this post:

Hugo Chavez in the News

"Hugo Chavez died 'in the bosom of the Church' "
CNA (Catholic News Agency) (March 6, 2013)

"A reliable source in Venezuela has revealed to CNA that President Hugo Chavez died “in bosom of the Church” and received spiritual direction and the sacraments in his last days.

"In announcing Chavez's death to the nation on March 5, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said the Venezuelan leader died 'clinging to Christ.' The source in Venezuela told CNA that during the last weeks of his life, Chavez requested spiritual direction and asked to receive the sacraments.

"Ever since he assumed power in 1999, Chavez butted heads continuously with the Catholic Church over statements by the bishops warning of the risks and excesses of his Socialist agenda. In 2002, Chavez accused the Venezuelan bishops of being a 'tumor' for his revolutionary goals and demanded that the Vatican not intervene in the internal affairs of the country.

"In recent years, Chavez occasionally took part in the religious services of distinct denominations, but he surprised the press in April 2012 when he showed up at a Catholic church in his hometown of Barinas to attend Holy Week services. He wore a rosary around his neck and prayed for strength to fight his illness. Last July, Chavez made public his request to meet with the Catholic bishops...."
As I wrote when this news broke, "impending death, like deadlines, can have a wonderfully clarifying effect: particularly about priorities." (Brian Gill, Google+ (March 6, 2013))

On the other hand, I don't think cheerless gloom makes much sense:

Facing Death

'He died in his sleep' is supposed to be a comforting idea in my culture. I think folks who say that mean well, and assume that a good way to die would be quietly, painlessly: and unconsciously.

I don't see it that way. The pain I could do without: but I'd much rather be wide awake, and aware that my life was ending.

My reasons aren't (quite) the same as Lieutenant Worf, in Star Trek Next Generation, but I like this quote:
Lt. Commander Data: [examining skeletal remains in hotel bed] "Definitely human. Male."
Commander William T. Riker: "Looks like the poor devil died in his sleep."
Lieutenant Worf: "What a terrible way to die."
The big reason I have for wanting to be aware of my impending death, and alert at the time, is what happens right after I die. I've got an eternity to look forward to, with two basic options:
  • Hell
    (Catechism, 1033-1037)
    • "...This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell.' "
      (Catechism, 1033)
  • Heaven
    (Catechism, 1023-1029)
    • "Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ...."
      (Catechism, 1023)
  • My final destination gets sorted out at my particular judgment
    (Catechism, 1021-1022)
I can't 'work my way into Heaven,' but I can't be indifferent to my permanent status, and that's another topic.

Life, Death, Eulogies, and All That

It's been a while since I saw a joke about overly-optimistic eulogies: the sort where mourners wondered if the preacher was talking about the fellow who'd died. Maybe the habit of padding the deceased's resume faded from American culture.

Eulogies don't happen at funeral Masses, by the way: or, more accurately, they're not supposed to. (II. Masses for the Dead, General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2003))

In my part of the world, family or friends of whoever died often put together a sort of poster display: a retrospective of the life we're celebrating. The ones I've seen were in the church basement, where we gathered after the Mass. I think it's a great idea, since in that setting it's possible to pay attention to what's displayed, talk about it, or just sit and think.

And that's yet another topic.

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.