Volume > Issue > Reverie Under the Shroud

Reverie Under the Shroud


By Christopher M. Reilly | December 2021
Christopher M. Reilly’s articles on bioethics and a Christian response to technology have appeared in Human Life Review, Public Discourse, National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Linacre Quarterly, Catholic Health Care Ethics (3rd. Ed.), and elsewhere. He holds master’s degrees in theology and public affairs.

The silence weighs heavy. In the consecrated atmosphere of the funeral, even the mourners’ hissing whispers congeal in my ears. I am alone with my thoughts, preparing mentally for the Mass, stifled by the blanket of motionless emotion that envelops me. This, I think, is death: The untimely repose of the corpse in the casket waiting awkwardly in the aisle, symbolically suspended between this world and the next — and my own paralysis, body and soul, prisoner in my seat.

A funeral is, of course, an excellent time to ponder death. In my state of mental and emotional detachment, it is the ambiguity of apprehension that seems to mean the most. Death, most simply defined as the absence of life — a loss, privation, and negation — is both the ending of life and its end, its purpose. It is the opening of the door to glorious finality, and the shutting of the door to earthly possibility. It is the ultimate mystery of human being that is solved only after we exit.

Not everyone, of course, shares my reflective mood, and I cannot escape the distractions. Cellphones in the next pew light up the church with a ghostly glow as one mourner checks his email, perhaps driven to monitor the constant flow of workaday demands and information. Technology entices us onto the automated conveyor belt; its progressive supremacy pauses for no man, dead or alive.

A young girl in the same pew is playing some kind of digital game on her device. Oblivious to the gloomy atmosphere of the church, she maneuvers joyful cartoon characters through mazes of colorful shapes. The shapes appear to reflect images in the church’s stained-glass windows, images that tell tales of transcendent mysteries that illuminate the real meaning in our lives. The light glowing through the windows is a faint reminder that there is a world outside. It is a world that offers energy and excitement. Life! How can we not embrace that blessed gift?

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