I turned 46 years old yesterday. The last decade, or so, birthdays seem to have come and gone without much fanfare in my life. In fact, I didn’t actually celebrate my first birthday until I was 25 years old. I remember a good friend threw a big pool party for me on the rooftop pool of her condo on Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach, Florida. Good times.
In case you might be wondering why my first birthday party wasn’t until I turned 25 (my parents were good to me, no worries), I didn’t celebrate birthdays growing up because we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. For some reason, JWs make a big deal of not celebrating birthdays because, according to their “theology”, the only examples in scripture of birthdays are of two “pagans”: the Pharaoh, where the baker was hung because he didn’t tell the Pharoah what he wanted to hear (Genesis 40:20f), and Herod Antipas’, where John the Baptist lost his head because some girl we call Salome listened to her crazy mother (Gospel of St. Mark 6:21f). Since my birthday fell on a Friday in Lent this year, I told my younger brother (who wants to celebrate with me because he no longer goes to the “Kingdom Hall” either) we could celebrate in style on Sunday. I hope no one loses her head….
So we celebrate on Sunday, March 11, 2012. My forty-sixth birthday, plus two days and the twenty-third anniversary of my mother’s death. She died on March 11, 1989, just two days after I had turned 23 years old. I had been taking care of her at Cedars of Lebanon down in Miami. The cancer ward in that hospital allows relatives to spend the night and I did. Mom would try to get up and go to the bathroom during the middle of the night. The chemo had her a bit delirious. Just thinking about those final days brings forth a series of very strong emotions. I can’t even really express these thoughts without feeling an enormous amount of emotion. The moment that I begin to put the words and images together, I get a big lump in my throat and my eyes begin to cloud up.
I spend time thinking about her and wonder where she is right now…what she is doing, is she aware…did she go to purgatory or straight to heaven? Stuff like that…. The truth is that I know that God has the last word and that word is mercy. One of my favorite parts of the Mass is during the prayer for the dead where the priest says, “Remember those who have died in the peace of Christ and all the dead whose faith is known to you alone.” (emphasis added; Eucharistic prayer IV) I’ve always liked Dante’s definition of sin as something that arises out of love, albeit a perverted sense of that love. That is why the notion that death is the beginning of a time of purification is not horrifying to me–to the contrary–it is something that fills me with hope. In fact, I’d say that life truly begins at the end of the earthly journey. What better place to be than in a place where I shall be helped to become more Christ-like, and hence, more God-like? I think EWTN has a great synthesis of the Church’s teaching on the after-life. I won’t get into the details of what the catechism actually says but instead, direct you here. I understand purgatory not as a place but “as a condition of existence.” To be in purgatory is to enter the process of purification. Doesn’t get much holier than that, does it?
These last few months have been rough. Law school is no picnic; but law school and working full-time is even less of a picnic! What was I thinking? I have about a month and half ahead of me of law school classes and then exams. I will be leaving for an eight week sojourn to Europe on June 21st and will return to the U.S. on August 16th. I am hoping to write a few more blogs about what it has been like being in law school and trying to live up to the Ideal. I think I’ll leave that for another blog….