April, Letter from the Editors
August 14th, 1987—September 21st, 2009
Requiescat in Pace
As every student ought to learn in his introductory literature class, a tragedy is defined, more or less, as “a story of human actions producing exceptional calamity and resulting in the death of an extraordinary man.” A tragic story evokes, if it is well written, the dual reactions of fear and pity from its audience: fear in that they recognize the same could happen to them, pity in the fall of the extraordinary, exemplary man. For the Greeks, who invented the genre, the protagonist of a tragedy is always a ruler, a great warrior, a noble figure; but even he is subject to the whims of fate, and his splendor is cut down, his glory tainted.
Indeed, if there is one thing certain in the life of every person—even, and in a sense especially, the best of men—it is death. That does not mean, unfortunately, that everyone is ready for it, in terms of both anticipation and spiritual standing. Thus, when someone beloved passes away suddenly, unexpected, with no time for preparation, it is shocking, painful, frightening; it is a direct encounter with the certain but undeniable mortality of every person. Were it not for the Catholic Faith, it would be an apocalypse of unbearable vital futility, a bleak and pervasive tragedy which unfolds not merely upon the stage of a theater or the pages of fiction, but diurnally on the stage of the earth and in the catalogue of facts. Truly having that Faith, however, it is a revelation of an entirely different sort: what is the tragedy of death in the eyes of the world is, seen through the perfective lenses of Catholicism, the divine comedy of salvation.
What is seen in death by the world, the limited and ultimately futile world of the noble temporally-minded Greeks of antiquity and the contemporary paralogistic atheists, is an inevitable frustration of the inherent and inexorable desire for immortality. To the Christian, the true Christian, death is a door into a real and possible glorified immortality. To the non-believer, this life is illumined only by the light that man can bring to it, which is countermanded not only by the shadows he simultaneously casts, but by the looming finality against which he struggles in vain. To the faithful, the light found in this life is a dim reflection of the brilliance that slips through the cracks around that sempiternal doorway, immutable by the failings and inadequacies of human action. Every man is thus faced with a choice: to live his life as if he alone were the source of its illumination, as though all lights must eventually go out; or to live as though he may be not merely a mirror of the heavenly light, but allow himself to become a veritable diamond radiating God’s illuminative grace.
Of course, becoming that diamond is not easy, for to do so means discarding one’s selfishness, the insularity of vanity and egocentrism: indeed, a diamond is formed only through intense and most frequently prolonged pressure and heat, an external process producing an internal change. How does this apply to the life of the Catholic college student? In principle, it applies the same as it would to everyone else; but not everyone else has such great opportunity. This is particularly true of those students who attend small Catholic liberal arts schools, in which there is a genuine communal setting, a genuine accessibility to the sacraments and to professors who are not shy about imbuing their intellectual dissemination with theological orthodoxy.
This is what made Southern Catholic College a truly special place: truly Catholic professors, daily sacraments, and a setting beautifully conducive to community. The potential of this school was unparalleled; and yet it was also constantly threatened, less by poor finances than by morally deficient individuals charged with protecting its good. Professors may only instruct; education is internal. Sacraments are inefficacious if not received faithfully, persistently, with love. And community cannot erect itself, but comes about only through communion, spiritual as well as intellectual; an abdication of focus purely on the self by taking another’s good as one’s own; community comes only through friendship, the total act of care towards another. Such a community requires a healthy body as well as a healthy head. In the school’s first four years, unfortunately, the head of the school was ill with the sickness of pseudo-Catholicism, the sort seen so prevalently at Notre Dame; when genuine Catholicity was finally instated in the school’s fifth year, the body was too badly weakened, too thoroughly malnourished, that the head could do nothing for it. The school, the college that held so much promise, died an institutional death of unmistakable tragedy.
Every man should keep death before his eyes every single day, for there is no telling when it may come. That does not mean one should live ensconced in a morbid panic, avoiding death at all costs; instead, one ought to be thinking of the good death, which is achieved by right living, the sort of living which one may, with persistence, find in a place such as Southern Catholic, wherein suffering for the greater good is easily learned. In Leo Tolstoy’s masterful novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, the story’s protagonist endures great suffering, physically, spiritually, and morally, for many weeks while on the verge of death. Wracked with doubt, confusion, and dismay, he considers his life of great worldly success, and comes ultimately to the conclusion that, whatever his life was in the eyes of the world, it was not lived rightly, for it was lived without faith, it was not “the real thing.” Coming to terms with that gives him solace. Once he accepts this, his suffering does not disappear, but it does transform; it is no longer meaningless. “He searched for his accustomed fear of death and could not find it. Where was death? What death? There was no fear because there was no death. Instead of death there was light.”
Indeed, death is not to be feared if one lives rightly, for the righteous man encounters not the darkness of mortality, but the light of salvation; which does not come of itself, but only through the willing acceptance of pain, of the suffocating suffering that, whatever one’s situation in life, is shouldering not only his Cross, but aiding the carrying of those borne by his friends. Kevin Sinnott will be missed. Southern Catholic College will be missed. But those who truly knew them both know that, while from the ephemeral perspective of man they are defeated and gone, vanquished by the passage of time and matter, their lives, their efforts, and their fruits have not and will not be wasted; the only vanity of their seemingly tragic ends is that which fallaciously believes that God allows for such calamity without simultaneously allowing for greater good.
April, Anno Domini 2010
Gloria a Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto
Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper et in sæcula sæculorum.