Category Archives: death

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality” Frank Redman’s ELIJAH

I don’t know exactly where to begin this review, which angle to take. I’m reeling. My wife and teenager have been commending Frank Redman‘s  ELIJAH: A SUSPENSE NOVEL to me for weeks now, and I finally read it. In short, I can say it was amazing, entertaining, chilling, and a punch in the gut in ways for which I was not prepared.  Apparently, I am not alone in this regard.  My wife remarked to me that with the internet’s instant access to so much information, when one writes about a book, a review is not sufficient.  Rather, an encounter would better describe it, where one meets the author, reads the background and influences, and embraces the story and its characters.  It certainly is true for our experience with Frank Redman and ELIJAH.

Frank Redman is a brand new author, whose own journey in the writing profession sounds like something out of a movie.  It’s his debut book, so I was thinking it might be something like early C.S. Lewis with a few twists in the manner of Dean Koontz, but it’s that and more.

By the time I got to the end of ELIJAH, I’d say it’s better than the early C.S. Lewis. This story has the mystique, chilling suspense, and humor of a Christian “Twin Peaks” or a more tightly written THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH.   It takes you into levels of evil that many of us would rather not know at all, but far too many people actually live through. Many writers depict such evil and either glorify it or give it a worldly punishment, but few provide a sense of hope that there is something better, that victims can still find happiness and holiness. Frank Redman is one of those few writers, and ELIJAH  is a book with a message that needs to be read.

St. Augustine says a work of perfect logic may be true but if it’s boring to read, it won’t do any good, and people are more willing to read and believe something that’s eloquent. The same is true of literature and movies: it doesn’t matter how true it is or how artistically “well crafted” it is. If it doesn’t draw people in, nobody will read it. HAMLET may have psychological and moral depth, but it’s basically a story about murder, ghosts and revenge.   ELIJAH has it all.  It immediately drew me in with the supernatural and suspense, has great depth in the character’s dealings with his horrid past, as well as fantastically funny insights with well-crafted characters who open your eyes to the devastating horrors that are hidden in daily life.   The reality of evil is tangible, but it’s tempered with hope and perseverance.


At times, the story of an author can sometimes be as compelling as the book the author wrote. This can be an advantage in attracting readers, as it is what led us to Frank Redman and ELIJAH. My wife and I both became Dean Koontz fans a little over a year ago. She noticed that Koontz has referred a few times to his friend Frank Redman (he dedicated SAINT ODD to him and said Frank’s struggle with brain cancer inspired ASHLEY BELL).

This book is dedicated to Frank Redman, who has more than once reminded me of Odd Thomas

Through a series of events that I’ll leave Frank Redman to tell, he began a mentorship with Dean Koontz.  Koontz had read some of his writing, saw potential, and agreed to mentor Frank. Then, on the same day that I had my descending aorta surgery, Frank was diagnosed with an extremely rare and extremely lethal brain cancer–most people diagnosed with it are only diagnosed with it posthumously, and if they are diagnosed while alive, they die in days or weeks. Frank is still alive nearly 4 years later.  So, with a sense of urgency, I set aside the few dozen “in progress” books I’ve been working on reading for years to read ELIJAH, reading late into the night, and enjoying it more and more with each swipe of the screen.


People don’t want to acknowledge the reality or enormity of Evil in the world.  It’s often hidden, and when it’s revealed, it can be nauseating, horrifying, and seemingly unfathomable.  The desire to stick one’s head in the sand is understandable, but unadvised.  Even less do people want to acknowledge the reality and enormity of God’s grace.  Redman’s ELIJAH addresses both supernatural phenomenon and their implications in our reality, in an engaging, fast-paced, thriller that will leave you reeling and pondering for weeks.

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What is truly a “slap in the face”?

We’ve all heard by now of the suicide of Brittany Maynard, a 29 year old brain cancer victim who decided to become the poster woman for so called “death with dignity,” and then got mad when people criticized her “personal choice.”  The Pontifical Academy for Life issued a statement condemning assisted suicide, and calling her death “reprehensible.”  Maynard’s mother has now posted an article on some site called “Compassion and Choices“, saying that PAV statement is “immoral” and “a slap in the face.”  The Culture of Death is now calling it “the Pope’s sin.”  I submitted the following to “Compassion and Choices.”  Re-posting here:

You posted an article by Brittany Maynard’s mother, claiming that the Pontifical Academy for Life’s statement on her daughter’s suicide is a “slap in the face” and “immoral.” No, Brittany Maynard’s suicide, and your entire “death without dignity” movement is immoral and a slap in the face to every one of us who deals with debilitating, life threatening illnesses. I have Marfan syndrome. I have suffered horrible pain every day of my life. I have dealt every day with the knowledge it could be my last. I have also dealt quite regularly with the temptation to “end my suffering” in this life–but a death with *true* dignity, the death of a Saint, is far more appealing to me. The risk of eternal suffering in Hell, and the knowledge that Jesus died undeservingly for my sins, and continues to suffer that infinite pain of the Passion for me, make it worth it to me to share His sufferings now for love of Him. Leon Bloy said the only tragedy is not to be a Saint.
What is reprehensible is the notion that people with terminal illnesses should be killed or pressured to kill ourselves because we are a “burden” to others. What is reprehensible is saying that it is dignified and courageous to die the death of a coward.
I pray that Brittany Maynard was not culpable for her decision, or that she repented in her last seconds, but what she did was neither moral nor compassionate, for herself or others.

Sincerely,
John C. Hathaway, OCDS

On celebrity deaths and the Spiritual Works of Mercy

Generally speaking, my view of how the media, and society in general, handle celebrity deaths (or any deaths) can be understood by Fr. George Rutler’s “Speaking Well of the Dead” from the November 1997 Crisis, which addresses the problem of insta-canonizations and eulogies, particularly of people who do not seem deserving of it. Or, as Crisis co-founder Ralph McInerny once quipped in his own column, “We cannot be certain of the fates of anyone but the Saints and our mothers.”

Plus, I have never been comfortable with getting emotional over celebrities, whether living or dead. I pray for them, either way, and leave it at that. Somehow, even before I knew the details, however, the death of Robin Williams kind of hit me, and when the details came out, it hit even closer to home. The subsequent media frenzy has touched on a number of issues that I have been wanting to write about, anyway.

Some people have been condemned, rightly or wrongly, for calling for caution in how the issue is being handled, especially given the circumstances, and I’d like to address those two main areas of concern *in general*.

Again, there is generally a reaction in these situations to the true neo-Pelagianism of “he was a ‘good man.'” As the cartoon that accompanies Fr. Rutler’s piece reminds us, Our Lord, and Bl. Teresa of Calcutta (whose death was one of the events that inspired it) have both cautioned “No one is good but God.” “Judge not” works both ways. Salvation is not a game of mathematics, where good deeds win points and bad deeds take them away. Nor is it a magic formula of sacramental grace or saying, “I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior” being a “Get out of Hell free card.” Salvation is about relationship, and again I’ll address that later, perhaps.

Right now, I wanted to focus on what I think is the problem when dealing with death from a pastoral theology standpoint, and the major worry regarding suicide.

While they may or may not have phrased it badly, and often the harshest critics have been those who’ve faced this temptation itself, one of the biggest problems some people are having is language like the now-infamous, “Genie, you’re free” meme, or saying things like, “He’s in a better place.” These words may seem consoling, but they can, as Rush Limbaugh, Matt Walsh, Todd Bridges and others have attempted to warn, be severely tempting to someone in the grip of despair. If such language is problematic with a natural death, it’s dangerous in this case.

When I was seven years old, and first became aware of how different I was from other children, I first thought about jumping out a window because I’d heard about reincarnation on TV and thought I could come back with a better body. “I didn’t break any mirrors. Why have I had seven years of bad luck?” I cried on my birthday. What saved me then was my parents telling me there was no such thing, and that if I did that, I would go to Hell.
Just last year, when I was on a respirator and feeding tube, and sedated, and hearing the ICU nurses debating questions of Obamacare regulations, organ donation, and “why don’t they just pull the plug,” and for a time (time at that point was irrelevant, but that’s another story), I became convinced that everything I believed as a Catholic was wrong, and that it would be better to pull the plug. Thankfully, they didn’t take the new “living will” I attempted to draft seriously. They *did* take it seriously in assigning my a psychiatrist, but again that’s another story. I just bring it up here to say that, attempts to console one person might bring another to despair.

That brings me to my other main thought. These “insta-canonizations,” as they’re referred to, whether of celebrities or the fellow down the road, are often well-meaning attempts to practice two of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy at the expense of others. It is a corporate work of mercy to bury the dead. It is a spiritual work to comfort the sorrowful. However, in comforting the sorrowful, we must be cautious not to use language that discourages praying for the dead.

Purgatory is temporary, and the holy souls in Purgatory know they’re going to see Jesus, but that no one imperfect can stand in the presence of God. They can intercede for us, but not for themselves. However, they still suffer, and our prayers and sacrifices on their behalf can alleviate their suffering if not free them, so well meaning attempts to say that someone “is in a better place” and presume that he or she went straight to Heaven is failing in one of the spiritual works and discouraging others from practicing it.

The traditional Requiem prayers are all about the awesome judgement of God, and in addition to praying for the deceased, reminding those in mourning that we, too, are mortal. That’s where admonishing sinners, instructing the ignorant, and counseling the doubtful come into play.

We’ve covered 5 of the 7 spiritual works of mercy, and the other two provide the last guidepost in these situations: bearing wrongs patiently and forgiving willingly.

Whatever wrongs a deceased person has done must be forgiven by us if we are to show mercy. We must always forgive as we would be forgiven, so even if the person hasn’t asked God’s forgiveness that we know of, and while we must not commit the sin of presumption ourselves, we may and should offer forgiveness to the dead–though, again, forgiveness requires acknowledging something to forgive. We can talk about a person’s good qualities and the signs of hope while acknowledging the things that need forgiveness.

Thus, when we look at the various arguments surrounding the Williams suicide, there have sadly been many offenses against Mercy, but we should forgive each other.

What is Satan’s “Goal”?

A friend once told me a joke that illustrates, in reverse, a question that has always puzzled me.
Teresa of Calcutta dies. Jesus embraces her and says, “Welcome to Heaven! You have served Me well. Come enjoy the Supper of the Lamb!” He serves her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
She says, “Lord, I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but, after all my sacrifice, I had kind of expected more of a Heavenly banquet?”
“With only two people, why bother to cook?”

People speculate about whether Hell is “empty,” or near-empty, but what if Heaven is? St. Teresa of Avila says somewhere that God only needs two Saints in the world to have the Church. What if the few thousand people recognized as Beati and Saints are really the only people in Heaven?

Would that mean Christ’s sacrifice was in vain?
What is the Devil’s “goal”? Does it really think it can “win”?

“We deserve our punishment”

I know a lot of people  who suffer from chronic pain.  Most of my Marfan friends are non-Catholics, and I observe how very differently they approach the question.  Often, “Offer it up” has become such a cliche that it loses meaning.  Even Jesus cried out from the cross, and sometimes that’s what we have to do, but we must always remember to keep focused on the goal.  I constantly have to remind myself of these things:

1.  “Though He was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, . . .”

2.  “We deserve our punishment, but this Man has done no wrong.”

3.  “In my own body, I fill up what is still lacking in the sufferings of Christ.”

4.  Mother Angelica once asked, “Why me, Lord?”  She got a response: “Why Me?”  She never asked again.

5.  A single mortal sin merits eternal suffering.  The worst we can bear here is nothing compared to that.  Imagine enduring *anything* forever.  My mom’s all-time favorite homily was, “You think it’s hot here?!”

C. S. Lewis once responded to someone who said, “It’s hot as Hell,” with “How would you know?”  When I was in CVICU last year, thinking I was dead and in Gell, everything seemed unendurable because ?I thought it was forever.  I was hot (high grade fever and screwed up post op metabolism).  I was thirsty (living off a feeding tube and npo).  I was in pain.  Most of all, I was *bored.*  I couldn’t move or speak.  I was strapped in a bed with tubes all over my body.

The only way to survive such a situation without despair is the Lord’s grace.  The Voice kept telling me to stop waive ring and make a choice.  It kept telling me it was over: I was in Hell or destined for it, that Jesus would never forgive me.  Yet, I thought of Faust, and I prayed, and I used the seemingly endless monotony to pray.  In particular, I thought about “70 times 7 times,” though I confused it as “70×70” and couldn’t remember if I was supposed to ask or grant it, so I kept naming people in my prayers and asking their forgiveness while offering mine.  I prayed the Pater repeatedly, the Publican’s Prayer and St Dismas’s prayer, over and over, 24/7, for at least 2 or 3 days.  My recovery began.

Why Kenny Rogers and John Lennon were wrong

“The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep,” said one.
“Imagine all the people living for today,” said the other.

Our neighbors like to have bonfires on the weekends and play the radio.  Usually, they do it in fall and our relatively mild winters, but, given the bad winter we’ve had, coupled with yard debris, they’ve been having them the last several weekends.  When we were leaving for Mass, the repulsive “Imagine” started playing on the radio at the neighbors’.  I quickly started the car engine, knowing it was on Casting Crowns.  I thought about switching to Fr. Antonio Vivaldi’s _Four Seasons_, but figured I’d rather hear content to get Lennon’s book of Marx out of my head (so to speak; “Imagine” came out nearly a year after “American Pie”).  I didn’t, and it fit in with the weekend’s meditations.

“Imagine all the people living for today”??
That’s exactly why we’re in the mess we’re in.  That’s what Thomas Hobbes famously describes as the state of nature: the war of “all against all” because everyone is “living for the moment,” and “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

"YOLO? No, bro"

Living for today is a good thing if you’re focused on the eternal “today” that is our destiny.

In his address at the 1998 Seattle C. S. Lewis Institute, Peter Kreeft quoted Voltaire saying that too many people had their minds on Heaven and Hell and not on France.  “I don’t know where Voltaire is now,” said Kreeft, “but, wherever he is, he’s not in France.”

Me with Peter Kreeft and Tom Howard

Me with Peter Kreeft and Tom Howard

Liturgically, this weekend’s theme of course was resurrection in anticipation of the upcoming Easter.  Saturday, we also celebrated the Memorial of St. Vincent Ferrer, known for his preaching on the Last Things, for promoting the following:

Prayer of St. Vincent Ferrer to be Sinless at the Hour of Death

Lord Jesus Christ, who willest that no man should perish, and to whom supplication is never made without the hope of mercy, for Thou saidst with Thine own holy and blessed lips: “All things whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, shall be done unto you”; I ask of Thee, O Lord, for Thy holy name’s sake, to grant me at the hour of my death full consciousness and the power of speech, sincere contrition for my sins, true faith, firm hope and perfect charity, that I may be able to say unto Thee with a clean heart: Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit: Thou hast redeemed me, O God of truth, who art blessed forever and ever. Amen. 

As we usually do, ironically, when I actually make it to Mass with my family, we went to the “last chance” college Mass, with a very kindly priest of the Holy Father’s generation who tends to overemphasize, as it were, “Niceness.”  He gives pleasant, uplifting homilies but never really challenges people.   He has a lot of good qualities, but I found his homily a bit lacking in the caution that should come with these themes.

“I am one of those who believe this life isn’t all there is.”
I should hope so.
He emphasized, “But if Christ is in you,
although the body is dead because of sin,
the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” (Rom 8:10).

He kind of left out the conditions “if” and “because of righteousness” and went with, “Christ is in all of us, so we’re all going to be together.”  He phrased it in that “ambiguous” manner that typifies his era, but he definitely promoted presumption.
I don’t know if it was posted because of St. Vincent, or the Sunday liturgy, or just an act of Divine Inspiration, but a blogger who goes by Tantamergo at “Dallas Area Catholics” posted a great piece on praying for a Happy Death, particularly praying for the opportunity to be conscious, as St. Vincent recommends above, so we can invoke Our Lady in our dying days, with various examples from Saints to that effect.
Thus, it was dismaying coming into Mass with those things in mind to hear Father say how most of his family were dead, and they’d all died of cancer, and he hoped to be fortunate enough to die in his sleep or suddenly!
No, the best we can hope for is not to die in our sleep; it is to die fully aware so that we’re not further punished for putting off our repentance.

Reports claim that Yellowstone is getting closer to eruption, and the animals are fleeing.   Others say that the supervolcano theory hasn’t been proven, that the animals are just engaging in normal migration, etc.  I say that, obviously, if they knew it was going to happen, they wouldn’t want to trigger mass chaos by saying that a mass extinction event is coming.  Either way, whether it’s Yellowstone, cancer, a heart attack, a gang playing the “knock out game,” or the proverbial bus, we must all heed Our Lord’s warning to store up treasure in Heaven, not on Earth.  Whether we die tomorrow or 90 years from now, we’ll still face the same personal judgement and the same two options for Eternity.  We worry so much about preparing for “retirement,” or how to survive various disasters, but do we worry about what will happen if we die a sudden and unprovided death?

Daily examination of conscience
Daily devotion to Our Lady and to Our Lord’s Passion
Self-sacrifice and almsgiving
Frequent recourse to the Sacraments
and, most of all
Praying daily that we and our loved ones will experience a “Happy Death,” with complete Confession, the Anointing, Viaticum, and the Apostolic Blessing (collectively, “Last Rites”).

These must be everyone’s priorities.

If there is no Biblical evidence for Saints, Limbo or Purgatory

Then why does Revelation 20:13 refer to “Death and Hades” as two separate entities?
And why does it speak of martyrs and those who never accepted the “Mark of the Beast” going straight to Heaven while the other dead have to wait?