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Why Celebrate Faustina's Death?
By Chris Sparks (Oct 5, 2015)
Why on earth would we celebrate the day a great saint died, rather than feeling sorry that such a person is no longer among the living? To get some answers, we caught up with Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy and an expert on all things Faustina.
Why do Catholics "celebrate" the day of St. Faustina's death? Why celebrate death instead of life?
Catholics usually celebrate the death days of the saints rather than their earthly birthdays because the day of death is actually the day of their "heavenly birthday," so to speak: the day they began their new and eternal life in our Father's heavenly kingdom. The main reason we believe in everlasting life is the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. His glorious bodily resurrection — proven true to the apostles by the empty tomb and the appearances of the Risen Lord — not only put on display for us the reality of the risen life, but also vindicated the promises Jesus made to His disciples about eternal life before He was crucified. For example: "For what the Father wants is that all who see the Son and believe in Him should have eternal life. And I will raise them to life on the last day" (Jn 6:40).
What reason, besides the authoritative teaching of the Church in Scripture and tradition, do we have to believe in a soul that could survive the death of the body?
Saint Thomas defended the idea that the human soul is the "spiritual" or "immaterial" aspect of the human person. The historian of philosophy Frederick Copleston, S.J., summarized all St. Thomas' arguments for us in his book Aquinas:
In the human being we find many activities which, considered in themselves, transcend the power of matter. For example, the mind or intellect can conceive and know other than purely material things, and this shows that it is not itself material. ... We should not be able to pursue logic or mathematics, or work out an abstract theory of physical science, were the mind corporeal. ... Again, self-consciousness is a sign of the immaterial character of the human mind. ... And the same can be said of free choice [in other words, if our choices were always merely physical events, they would be mere reactions to other physical events, not voluntary actions].
At one point in his Compendium of Theology, St. Thomas tells us that human beings have a natural desire for immortality and supernatural knowledge of the essence of God, and this is yet another sign that the human soul is immaterial and incorruptible, for we would not have natural desires for such knowledge unless it was somehow attainable.
If St. Thomas were alive today, he would have at his disposal all kinds of extra arguments drawn from modern science for the immaterial, spiritual nature of the human soul. For example, psychologists have noted that Siamese twins and identical twins, although possessing the same genetic make-up and almost exactly the same formative environment, end up with strikingly different personalities, implying that there is a third element (not just one's genes and environment) that makes a person the kind of person he or she is. That extra element is the human soul. Then there are all those cases of people who have been pronounced, medically speaking, "dead," yet who mysteriously came back to life again, and later described their experiences of death as "out-of-the-body" and "life-after-life" experiences. If you can be "out of your body," then there must be some aspect of you that is not your body. That aspect is your soul!
Again, there is the evidence compiled by Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield. He experimented on willing human subjects who were undergoing brain surgery under local anesthesia, and therefore fully conscious (remember that the brain has no pain receptors, so it didn't hurt!). He found that electrical stimulation of the motor cortex of the brain (the part of the brain responsible for movement of the limbs) gave rise to actions disowned by the patient. In other words, the patients described the actions of their limbs, caused by such brain stimulation, as actions done to them, not by them. There is clearly something different about the way our motor actions are processed when they are voluntary, when they proceed from our free will, as opposed to when they are just caused by electrical activity in our brain. This suggests again that acts of our intellect and will flow from our spiritual soul, and not from our physical brain alone.
Can we celebrate all death as the time of entrance into eternal life?
We cannot celebrate all death as the time of entrance into eternal life, because in most cases we cannot presume to judge whether those who have died have entered into eternal life — or purgatory, or eternal death. But when loved ones die, we pray for them with hope, entrusting them into the care of our heavenly Father, who will do everything possible to lead them to heaven.
Saint Faustina wrote, "I feel certain that my mission will not come to an end upon my death, but will begin. O doubting souls, I will draw aside for you the veils of heaven to convince you of God's goodness, so that you will no longer continue to wound with your distrust the sweetest Heart of Jesus. God is Love and Mercy" (Diary, 281). How can Faustina help doubting souls upon the earth now that she's gone?
She believed her mission would only begin at her death because a pure and holy soul is usually able to do more good for the world from heaven than from here. In heaven they are no longer bounded by earthly time and space, and so their prayers are incredibly powerful, able to penetrate the darkest corners of the world, and of the human heart.
I will never forget taking part in the wonderful Mass for the canonization of St. Faustina in Rome in the year 2000, and listening to Blessed Pope John Paul II refer to her at one point as "my dear Sister Faustina." She is indeed our sister in heaven, and as she said in her Diary, she longs to be able to help us by her prayers. She has been doing that for us all ever since.
To request a small bottle of oil blessed in honor of St. Faustina, order here. To learn more about this sacramental, see the video below.