Wednesday, January 13, 2016

David Bowie and the Four Last Things

This is objectionable on two grounds.

First, it's what everyone who wanted to tweet something half-clever did. It's banal to the point of embarrassment from the 73-year-old President for the Pontifical Council on Culture. The Bear doubts he has any David Bowie on his iTunes, unlike the Bear. (Let's Dance is the current track as he writes.) And look at the retweets and likes!

Second, and more importantly, it trivializes the Last Things. The reality was that David Bowie was not, unless he converted on his deathbed, a believer. He was not a professed atheist, but that's the most that can be said. Granted, it's probably best not to make a statement about that.

But the Bear has noticed a kind of folk-religion that has grown up where the dead are immediately and without exception transported directly to Heaven. Pope Francis used the occasion of lighting a manger scene boat used by Muslims to illegally enter Italy to say that all drowning victims are "with the Lord." From top to bottom, we have all become Spiritualists, and our loved ones and non-Christian strangers are all in The Summerlands together.

Death used to be such a time of trial and combat to previous generations of Catholics that entire books were written on how to die well: Ars Moriendi. Death was seen as the Devil's last chance to snatch a soul to Hell, and the books detail the temptations of the dying, as well as the encouragement friends and family were to provide. Now death itself has been tamed by Roxanol. Woody Allen said, "I'm not afraid of death. I just don't want to be there when it happens." We're there.

Among the Lost Files the Bear found were a couple of posts on his mother's death. They were painful to read. He wrote:
Everyone wants to tell me she's in a better place.  She's looking down on me from heaven. She's with my dad, her brother, her mother and father. I do not know. I do not like to hear things like that, even though I know people are trying to be nice. There is a kind of primitive American folk-religion that is invoked at death, but otherwise does not make demands during life. I wish it were that simple. As a Catholic, if I am to take my religion seriously, I have to face the reality that my mother may not be at peace in her eternal home. She has embarked on a perilous journey of judgment and purgation, not entered into The Summerland's eternal vacation.
She had a lifelong attraction to the Catholic faith, but there is also a strong Masonic strain in the Bear's family that the Bear could not overcome. Yet in the last couple of days before her death, the only thing she said was, "Upon this rock." The Bear will take the ambiguous comfort, but it is a cold comfort.

The Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell. In forty years of being Catholic, the Bear has never once heard these spoken of. He has never heard the word "Purgatory" uttered, much less "Hell." Literally never, as in not one time. The Bear has had 40 years of variations on a theme of Nice. Everything he has learned he has taught himself, God help him.

The Bear has a wan hope for David Bowie. He admired him as a performer, but Fame or not, he was just another mortal. All the Young Dudes are in their Golden Years now, and the old rockers are no longer too young to die. Many of us are not so far behind. Major Tom has been launched to an unknown destination. As Catholics, we have a duty to not promote Spiritualism's Summerlands. The reality is far more terrifying and exhilarating.

David Bowie, 1947 - 2016


  1. You hardly hear solid Catholicism preached anywhere - it is more akin to mush.

    There must be a reason.

    1. Those without the teeth for red meat are happy to settle for mush.

      Or perhaps a steady diet of mush atrophies the teeth to such an extent that they can no longer masticate real meat.

    2. "I gave you milk to drink, not meat; for you were not able as yet. But neither indeed are you now able; for you are yet carnal."
      (1 Corinthians 3:2 Douay Rheims)

      Jim's question puts the finger on the exact problem. Answer that and you have answered all the problems in the Church. Did it just happen, or is it deliberate? I'm beginning to think the latter. How many generations need to be misled and kept in ignorance until the faith has vanished from the Church? Not very many.

  2. Good thoughts Bear, and very sobering. Were it not for conscientious bloggers like yourself, we would never hear about those Four Last Things (I always inadvertently include taxes on that list!)
    It's a victimless crime, so the pastors think, who fail to mention the reality of life and what happens after death. It's a bit like abortion, another victimless crime. Why? Not because the result isn't real, it's real enough, but because the victims are silent, as in, they can't tell about it.
    May God rest your good mother's soul, David Bowie's soul, and the souls of all the other people who die without giving God as much thought as they probably should have.

  3. My Dear Bear, I entirely understand your feelings expressed upon the death of your mother. My own son died of a heart attack this past Good Friday.

    He was 45, unmarried, and lived alone. He was expected at Easter dinner at his grandmother's and when he failed to turn-up his mother and sister went looking for him and found him.

    It was and remains a sorrowful sorrowful time and deep wound from which none of us will recover in this life.

    Some years ago I had had the entire family consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and therein lies my consolation amidst an ocean of anxiety.

    There are prayers aplenty being offered for him every day, and Masses offered for the repose of his soul.

    This past November I attended our parish Novena for the 'Holy Souls'and heard not one word throughout the 9 days either of Purgatory or indulgences to be had for the remission of the suffering of those 'Holy Souls'.

    Even so, I trust in God and am certain He would not refuse admittance to a soul who would have been so blithe to meet him.

    Pity David Bowie and all those clerical groupies who would not suffer one Holy Mass for the repose of his soul or urge others to do so.


    1. I am very sorry for your loss, especially as your grief is still fresh. But Catholics do have the comfort of being able to do something. The Communion of the Saints is real. Whenever we call call each other at the same time in my family, we laugh and say "Communion of the Saints." Those bonds are never broken. But it is bitter to lose physical contact with someone you love.

  4. I shant overstay my welcome in the combox, Bear, but may I say that from my earliest memories I was taught this prayer:

    "O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to thee and for those who do not have recourse to thee especially the Free Masons."

    I don't know its origins, but I have said it for decades and you will note the Masons get a preferential mention in this prayer to our Blessed Mother! She must have a soft spot for them somehow and wants only a bit of prayer.

    God bless friend.

    1. I have never heard that prayer. All the males in my generation and back have been Masons. My grandfather was buried in his apron. My brother threw a fit because I had scheduled a rosary 30 minutes prior to the funeral for my mom, and he came early.

    2. Bear and Liam, my prayers are offered for the souls of your loved ones.

      Here is something that I gleaned from something I read somewhere at sometime written by someone. Don't remember any of the details.

      It is this: We must always keep in mind that God is eternal, i.e., He is outside Time.

      As a consequence, He does not see Time as a straight line like a timeline but, rather, as a circle whose ends connect like this: O.

      God is outside the circular timeline and can view all Time at the same time just like you can see all points on the O all at the same time.

      Hence, God can see all your "future" prayers and penances said and offered for your deceased loved ones and apply them in the "past" to those same loved ones at the time they were actually alive in order to effect conversion.

      Being outside of Time, this is not a problem for Him.

      No prayer for conversion, or act of penance for such intention, is ever lost, and we cannot know with any certainty what happens to a soul in his/her last moments.

      Of course, we cannot presume things, but we can at least keep hope.

      There are many Catholic stories/legends, some written by saints and mystics, that relate how some souls who were presumed by the general populace to be damned were actually saved in their last moments.

      Saint Therese of Lisieux related such an incident that she experienced when she witnessed a criminal being taken to his execution.

      Other saints have stated similar things.

      Let us not become presumptuous, but let us also not lose hope.

      God bless.

    3. Dear DJR thank you for your prayers. I am filled with hope actually just keenly missing the camaraderie of my son. As for the concept you expressed about God's being outside of time, etc., I recall having read the very same thing. Human history is more or less a tableaux before God. Interesting though I can't put my finger where I'd heard of it.

      Bear! I have found the source of the prayer I recite that you cannot recall having heard before. It is one of the prayers of the (Knights) Militia of the Immaculata' and attributed to St. Maximilian Kolbe. It is derived from the prayer of the Miraculous Medal.

    4. Yes, thank you for your prayers and wise thoughts, DJR.

      Yes, Your Honor, that rings a bell now that you mention it.

      BTW, I have a recurring nightmare where I find myself in court having no idea what I'm there for, and the judge is telling me to proceed. Isn't that funny?

    5. Fake it, Bear. Inform the judge that your client hadn't quite heard the entire of the reading of the charge against him/her (glance with mild exasperation towards your client) and beg the court's indulgence for a re-reading of the particulars and then speed-riffle through those 3x5'index cards in your mind.

      On one notable occasion I had counsel pass out cold during her opening statement. (And yes, even as her head hit the carpet, I did turn to the court reporter and say 'Let the record reflect that counsel for the defendant has just..., etc.".

      Yours is a funny nightmare, Bear, but less so than having to adjudicate matters put forward by counsel who had the temerity to claim they were prepared to proceed and they weren't.

      Once you've passed through that gladiatorial arena of ours, Bear, the blood and sweat and swordplay pursues you through your dreams and even into your retirement. (I wouldn't have it otherwise for the world.)

    6. I was once observing an attorney who had a less than stellar reputation trying to argue something before the judge in chambers. At some point -- it may have been my poorly suppressed snickers -- he turned to me and said, "What, Bear? Like you've never had to wing it?" I didn't answer, but it would have been, "No."

    7. That dream seems just a likely subconscious bit of anxiety related to one's career. I am a therapist, and I have dreamt that I was suddenly given the name of a patient I was supposed to have been seeing, and had never seen. We all have our anxieties.
      I'm heartily sorry, Bear and Liam. I've lost two close family members in the last four years. I cling to what our Lord promised. How people do it without faith, I can never understand.

    8. That dream of yours, Kathleen, sounds like a generalized fear of an unannounced Medicaid audit. (joking of course)

      Thank you for your kind condolences. I am sorry to hear of your own losses.

      Faith, and in no small measure the support of family and friends, are the only enduring consolations.

  5. I have found all the spiritual/religious fawning over David Bowie to be very odd...out of left field.

    1. Because it's cool to show everyone you know who a pop icon is? Because it makes you feel relevant because you're not doing much of a job actually being relevant?

    2. I think it has something to do with "the lobby" that we keep hearing about that apparently inhabits the environs near Vatican Hill.

    3. I think it's related to his having been a Baby Boomer AND part of their "rebellion" or "making a mark" self-image.

      I apologize in advance to all Baby Boomers who aren't like this, but I have developed a deep disgust for Baby Boomers and their self-referential, self-aggrandizing ways.

      Every time someone in their generation dies, who was also some kind of "icon" or trailblazer, we get endless articles, reflections, and allusions to that person. It's worse now with social media.

    4. I don't know that it's Boomers. Kurt Cobain is still idolized. (My son doesn't believe he committed suicide.) Bowie had a long and varied career that definitely made its mark on pop music. I used to work in a radio station and the manager said "People want to listen to music that they sowed their wild oats to." Whether that is true or not, I don't know, but music is tightly bound to memories of (often) happier days. So I kind of get it. But for a Cardinal head of Culture to tweet a banal tribute like that is just dumb.

  6. Good meditation Bear. I believe the dumbing down of the faith was deliberate in an effort to be more appealing to Protestants after Vatican II. This was a huge mistake which if not rectified will result in very few remaining truly Catholic.

    Each week in our Sunday bulletin two small print pages are devoted to educating the parishioners in authentic Catholic teaching. This was a major step in the right direction.

    1. I don't quite understand it either, Pete. There are many in the pop culture who have passed from this life who have not received such attention. I think it was Bowie's "other worldliness" and avant-garde way of life that is garnering the intrigue. He also kept his terminal illness out of the public eye and so his death came as a surprise, particularly after he had had just released an album. His parting gift "Lazarus" has added to the intrigue. Ever the showman, up until the end.

    2. Yes, and no word (to my knowledge) about Maureen O'Hara, for example, who died not too long ago. A great lady.

    3. If "other worldliness" and avant-garde ways were part of the mix, Laura, then the passing of Tiny Tim should have had a timely mention when Tim tiptoed his last through the tulips. That boy (r.i.p.) played a mean ukulele.

  7. "May God reward him for for the hours of elation and transcendence his music brought to us" When I read that on the Aletia site I just stared at the screen and wondered if some sort of demonic mental breakdown is going on among the sophisticated Catholic set.


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