The Spirituality of Dying

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Giandomenico Mucci, SJ

 Giandomenico Mucci, SJ / Church Thought / 4 January 2021


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“For we are as tree trunks in the snow. In appearance they lie smoothly and a little push should be enough to set them rolling. No, that’s not the case, for they are firmly wedded to the ground. But see, even that is only seemingly the case.”[1] This is from a story by Kafka that emphasizes the fragility of life. Simone de Beauvoir said that death puts the world in question.

Today, according to some, talk about death has been progressively marginalized since the end of metaphysics.[2] In fact, “liquid persons,” as theorized by Bauman, live everything in the succession and movement of moments, which preclude them from the sense of stability and continuity and, therefore, the possibility of any project motivated by hope. All that remains for us is uncertainty and insecurity, that is, anxiety and fear,[3] because no one can avoid the torturous encounter with Time.[4] Therefore, it is not really wise to say that death has been marginalized today. Perhaps little is said about it in explicit terms, as if there’s a desire to exorcise it, but, almost in a hidden fashion and annoyingly for those who would like to silence its sovereign presence, its ghost appears in those speeches that allude to it.

And so we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of burial and cremation,[5] the right to choose how and when to die and put an end to suffering,[6] the dominance of the biological aspect over the religious aspect of death and their conflict: hospitalization and fear of the sick, palliative medicine, the antidepressants that the pharmaceutical industry has developed to manage “mental illness,” which the DSM, the psychiatrists’ diagnostic and statistical manual, calls “malaise of mourning.”[7] And there are those who speak of the “bitter rescission of ourselves” in terms moving between the esoteric and the lyrical.[8]

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