Hope to Die
Updated: Jun 2
Friday Book Pick: Hope to Die:
The Christian Meaning of Death and the Resurrection of the Body
By Scott Hahn with Emily Stimpson Chapman
As I write this Friday Book Pick on the newly released book Hope to Die, (which is about death and particularly about the proper treatment of the body after death) fittingly, I am in Ireland where honoring the dead is still a significant feature of the culture. Significant enough that during the lockdown, when traveling more than a few kilometers from your home was prohibited (and actually enforced by police check-points) the government made an allowance for people visiting the graves of the deceased. The Irish government has shown itself to be opposite the Church on nearly everything of importance as of late, this might be one exception. In regard and reverence for the faithful departed, we could certainly learn from the Irish!
This latest book by Dr. Scott Hahn reminds us of the very important truths of our Faith surrounding death, judgment, burial and life everlasting. Hahn is mainly trying to remind us of the dignity of the human body, which will be resurrected and returned to us glorified at the end of time. Before anyone had an inkling of what 2020 would hold, this book was scheduled for release Easter 2020, right in the midst of the pandemic that brought death in the forefront of all of our minds. The timing seems to have been a work of Providence.
†Fr. Andrew Apostoli, founder of our Community, would say before most of his talks and within many of his homilies, “We don’t need a lot new teachings, but we do need a lot of reminders.” And this book does not contain any new teachings, but rather it amplifies teachings that have been too often forgotten. It is a timely reminder for Catholics.
In the first chapter Hahn explains his motive in writing Hope to Die: The Christian Meaning of Death and the Resurrection of the Body, “How we treat our bodies in death matters. …how Christians deal with death—how we think about death, talk about death, and treat the dead—is a form of witness. It is a witness to a materialist, nihilist, radically confused world about the holiness of our bodies and the life for which we were meant. We are not made for death. We are made for life. The purpose of this book is to help you see that.”
The teachings of the Church on death, dying and burial are built on what the Church
teaches about the person. The human person is both body and soul. Hahn explains the essential nature of the body according to the teachings of Saint John Paul II. The body expresses the person and it is the “the sacrament of the person” revealing the living soul, and thus “enabling you to communicate to the world who you are: what you think, feel, know, fear, desire, and love.”
In addition to expressing something about ourselves, our bodies also express something about God. “Made in the image and likeness of God, every body of every person expresses a profound truth about who God is. In our bodies’ ability to create and give and love, they reflect a God who is the Creator, the giver of all good gifts and love himself. More-over, in their ability to bring new life into the world, they image a God who is from all eternity life-giving love.”
Hahn goes on, “Everything about our bodies—their beauty, their strength, their tenderness, their endurance, their swiftness, their grace, their life-giving capacity—all of it reflects the truth of who we are and who God is.”
A major theme of the book is cremation. Hahn gives the history of the practice of burning the dead and explains how foreign this practice has been to Christianity until recently. He traces how it was introduced into Western culture and eventually permitted (but not favored) by the Church. Hahn also makes a case for the importance of opting for burial (over cremation) because of the witness value in a culture that treats the human body as disposable. “When we treat the body for what it is, and for what it was in life, burying it not burning it, our bodies continue to teach the world about the dignity of the human person and the extraordinary fate that awaits us on the last day.”
Reading this book is an eye-opening exhortation to reverence the body in life and in death. As you know, you are made in the image of the God but if you are baptized you are also a temple of God. And your body is meant to be yours for all eternity in heaven (albeit after the separation of body and soul at death, the particular judgment which the Church teaches is immediate upon death, and then waiting for the end of all things and the general judgment, and finally your body will be received back glorified), all that said, it is still your body—you.
In addition to exhorting his readers to think rightly about the body, treating it properly
in death, and fostering a proper disposition toward death—not fearing death as if we were not followers of the Jesus Who in dying and rising defeated death—Hahn ends the book with a beautiful exhortation to pray for the dead. He reminds us of the importance of visiting the graves of the dead, praying and sacrificing for our loved ones and especially of having Masses offered. The ancient practice of having 30 consecutive Masses offered for the dead is also explained and recommended. Known as the Gregorian Masses, the tradition of thirty consecutive Masses offered for the deceased began with Pope Saint Gregory the Great in the sixth Century. I can think of no better way to assist our departed loved ones and even perfect strangers as the book of Maccabees reminds us, it a just and noble thing to pray for the dead. They sure do this here in Ireland! I walked to the cemetery several times over this week and never was it without people praying at the well-kept graves of loved ones.
“Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.”