Did the news of Prince’s death shock and sadden you? Over the last few months several celebrity deaths have been in the headlines. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Natalie Cole, Glenn Frey, Harper Lee and Patty Duke are just a few familiar faces who have passed. Whenever another famous person dies, television and social media are flooded with the news and career retrospectives. Flower memorials pop up and grow in front of the deceased person’s homes. We post our favorite of their music or movies or books on Facebook and Twitter. We shake our heads and feel as if we’ve lost a close friend. Of course most of us never knew any of these good folks personally, but we feel as if we did. We feel as if they were a part of our lives in some way and we grieve at the shock and sorrow of their deaths.
But I would argue that a great deal of that shock and sorrow we feel is misdirected emotion. I believe what upsets us the most is the fact of death itself. And, on a deeper level, the reality that each one of us is going to die. When a celebrity dies, death has the audacity to make the news. It interrupts our binge-watching and our instragramming and our selfie-posting. Death comes along and reminds us that not only does everyone die, but that “everyone” includes us. Maybe our celebrity grief helps us from dwelling on that fact very much. Heaven forbid we sit in silence and contemplate the state of our immortal souls and where we’re gonna end up when we die. Of course, in our culture, everyone who dies immediately goes to heaven. And I guess we assume that’s gonna be true for us, too. So we grieve and post and bow our heads and then we get right back to the noise of the world. Until the next celebrity goes. I don’t mean to belittle the feelings of loss when a beloved figure dies. I just question how we tend to over-feel for someone we don’t know while we often fail to take proper and prudent care of our own journey to that same mortality.
Do we know what Christ and His Church teach us about our souls and the reality of immortality? Or do we just have some vague beliefs and hopes about heaven and hell? Have we ever sat down with our pastor and talking about death and dying? I’m wondering how seriously we think about our deaths, in light of how we react as a culture to the deaths of public figures.
We Catholics have had almost 2000 years to study the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church on death and our salvation. We’ve been given the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Confession and Anointing of the Sick—each a vehicle of God’s saving grace. And yet, even among some Catholics, I fear that we can be just as neglectful of the state of our souls as anyone else. We become sort of like zombies, going through the motions of life, but asleep to our sins. This is not God’s plan for us. He desires us to be fully alive in Him, living with joy and hope and sharing His mercy and love with others. We can’t be the person God created us to be unless we are alive in Christ. When we live in His joy, our lives and our deaths have purpose and meaning. By embracing that purpose, we’ll come to know the peace of mind and heart that only the Lord can give us. In that peace, we share the challenges and losses of life in the company of a loving Savior. We live, and die, in His friendship. We find our true identity in Him, not in the passing things and celebrities of the world.
“Whenever we fear death, we need to remember that Jesus is the Bread of Life.”
–Father Matthew P. Schneider