Once when I was afraid of death, not of my own but that of the people I loved, I would go and sit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the quiet of a church, redolent of incense, ancient ritual, and prayer. A church was a place where you could meet death on neutral ground, a no-man's land between now and eternity, where matters fell into perspective and terror became irrelevant because you knew it to be transitory.
There was a silent peace with a hidden promise of unimaginable joy to which all the objects of devotion attested: the altar, the statues, the crucifix, all the appurtenances of faith belonged to no one and to everyone. Still and worthy of trust, they were there yesterday and now and would be there tomorrow. Inanimate yet living testimony to a vital certainty. It is rare now to find such a church. Stripped and barren, while the people themselves are encouraged to buy more and more to support the market economy and cram their houses with trivia, the churches are denuded in the name of progress.
It is impossible to understand without laying bare the motives of those who wrought such destruction. The result is terrible in the terms of disillusion and loss, and those who say they wished only to affirm life and community have robbed us of consolation, giving death a greater power than is his due. The here and now is what concerns us they say, forgetting that life is short and but a preparation.
The new and re-ordered churches are symbolic only of a denied but underlying despair, a loss of faith to the sad conviction that death is the end. The noisy ceremonies that now fill these churches, the guitars, the clapping, swaying, and showy raptures are a mere extension of the drug culture, a whistling in the wind, a neurotic insistence that happiness is attainable immediately and does not need to be waited for or earned. The notion that suffering can bring forth good, that deprivation can nourish the soul is unacceptable. Suggest that the saints lived their lives in the promise and not the fulfillment of joy and you will not be heard. The Protestant cult of the "born again" with its ecstatic overtones has laid hold of a Church that still claims to lay all store on baptism. We are at the mercy of doctrinal error, often imposed from above, with little recourse to authority which is often too pusillanimous to argue with the trend. The wolves are in the fold.
Now that the churches are no longer peaceful but full of people determined to convey to you their loving care, their innate virtuousness, with handshakes and smiles, the bereft are best off in solitude, listening for the still, small voice. The country graveyard is perhaps now the place nearest to God on earth, for that too is neutral ground where death has had his way, is satisfied and thus of no more significance and no threat.
Freedom lies in looking on the face of death and knowing that there is no true battle here, that he does not need to be fought and defeated, for he is only God's instrument and God lives.