by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
This past Nov. 22, 2023, marked the 60th anniversary of the assassination and death of President John F. Kennedy.
I was 14 years old at the time and a freshman in high school. Anyone my age or older remembers vividly what we were doing that day. I was in typing class when we were informed that the president had been shot. We prayed for the president and for our nation. School was dismissed, but before I left the building, we were informed that President Kennedy was dead.
For the next several days, the nation was in mourning. The National Football League canceled all their games that Sunday. Most other athletic competitions were also canceled. In St. Louis, I remember that wrestling at the Chase still went forward, though they did offer a prayer for our fallen president and his family.
What I was not aware of at the time and only discovered recently was that on that same day, two other famous individuals died: C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley. Peter Kreeft wrote a small book entitled: “Between Heaven and Hell – A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death.” The book is Kreeft’s imagined conversation between the three, who meet somewhere beyond death.
Huxley represents the view of a pantheist who was influenced by Eastern mysticism. Kennedy, though Catholic, is classified as representative of a humanist. Lewis is a Christian theist. I found the conversation between the three fascinating and intriguing. Lewis, a great Christian thinker and apologist, dominates the dialogue.
Most of the great Catholic saints thought about the reality of death every day. They lived their lives with the perspective that life in this world was passing away, but something much better awaits us. The pantheist and humanist live with the same inevitability of death, but not with the same sure and certain hope about eternal life.
Kreeft’s book is out of print, but you may be able to find a used copy. As we approach the Lenten season preparing ourselves to celebrate the central events of our Christian belief — the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the great gift of our baptism that has given us an eternal destiny — I encourage all of us to ponder the reality of our own mortality but also the great hope that comes from our Catholic faith and our friendship with Jesus.
Death for the Christian is not something to fear. However, it is a reality that should impact the way we live our lives in this world, preparing ourselves to share in the eternal kingdom of heaven.
What a gift is our Christian faith. It gives meaning and purpose to everything we do in this life. Our friendship with Jesus means that we are never without hope or cause for joy!