St Thomas More Letter 61: Mozart

Mozart’s Requiem
Mozart’s Requiem is a classic of western music, largely written by Wolfgang Amadeus. Mozart not long before his death, and completed by one of his pupils shortly thereafter. Mozart’s Requiembelongs to a particular musical genre, of Masses. It provides music to accompany the Mass.

Mozart was a great favourite of Benedict XVI who, in 2010, commented at the conclusion of a Mozart concert:

In the last letter, dated 4 April 1787, that he [Mozart] wrote to his dying father, he spoke in this way concerning the last phase of life on earth: “… for some years I have become so familiar with this sincere and most beloved friend of man (death), whose image, for me, not only has nothing terrifying about it but even appears very tranquillizing and comforting! And I thank my God for granting me the good fortune of having the opportunity to recognize in it the key to our happiness. I never go to bed without thinking that I might perhaps be dead on the morrow. Yet not one of those who know me would be able to say that in company I am sad or in a bad mood. And for this good fortune I thank my Creator every day, and I wish for it with all my heart for all my peers”. It is a letter that shows a deep and simple faith which likewise emerges in the prayer of the great Requiem and leads us, at the same time, to love intensely the events of earthly life as gifts of God and to rise above them, looking serenely at death as the “key” that opens the door to eternal happiness.

Mozart’s Requiem is a lofty expression of faith that is well acquainted with the tragedy of human existence and is not silent about its dramatic aspects. It is thus an expression of a truly Christian faith, aware that the whole of human life is illumined by God’s love. Many thanks again to all of you.

The film, Amadeus, is not worth watching, not being a reliable historical depiction of Mozart’s life!  Not even close!

As well as being a work of genius (Mozart is in musical terms what Shakespeare is to literature), the Requiem is a work of faith by a person who was a practising Catholic up to the time of his death. If Mozart was not entirely consistent, who of us is?

Four Last Things 
Mozart, in the Requiem, a funeral Mass for the dead, is dealing with what Christians call the Four Last Things – Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell.  November is when Christians remember the Four Last Things.  In particular, Christians remember in their prayers the suffering souls in purgatory.  1 November is the feast of All Saints.  2 November is the commemoration of All Souls.  The Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium, 50) reminds us that the Church has always honoured the memory of the dead, referring to Maccabees, because it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins.  We are members of the Church which includes the triumphant in heaven, the suffering in purgatory, and (hopefully) the militant on earth.  Hence, we ought remember to pray for our deceased forebears at Mass.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) provides the most accessible and most reliable account of the Four Last Things, a way of thinking whose source is the Gospels, the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.  In its commentary on the Creed, the Catechism highlights the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and life everlasting, encapsulating the Christian understanding of death.  One might also add, from the Our Father, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who sin against us”.

Don Quixote 
In Cervantes’ great Catholic sixteenth century Spanish novel, Don Quixote, the man of La Mancha, having recovered his wits, no doubt recalling the Four Last Things, gets his temporal and spiritual affairs in order.

As one gets older, one realises one needs a will.  To my mind a simple will is best, giving everything to one’s spouse, but if one’s spouse has died first, dividing one’s property in equal shares amongst one’s children.

Solicitors who draft long wills should be required to charge less, as they clearly do not know what they are doing! and clearly have given little thought to the drafting of the will!  A long and complex will is an infallible sign of the professional incompetence of the solicitor who drew up the will!  The shorter the will, the more the solicitor should be entitled to charge, as the more thought is likely to have been given to its content! and the more care taken in its drafting! Solicitors who draft a will in excess of two pages should be struck off for professional misconduct! or at least be liable to pay damages to the estate of the deceased for the loss they have caused by enhancing the possibility of disputes!

Of course, circumstances vary, and it is a lot simpler if one is fortunate enough not to be rolling in money at the time of one’s death.  Money is a curse, and one is lucky if one does not have much of it! especially when one is about to fall off the twig!  Money gives rise to complexity and to disputes! and the less one has the better!  Get rid of whatever money you have, spending it on your grandchildren, especially to ensure they receive a good education in the faith.

Death is a time to think about charity.  There are plenty of worthless charities which do nothing for anyone but the professional administrators who manage them.  There are some charities which do very worthwhile things.

Despite their bad press, there are Catholic charities which have stuck to their knitting, improving the lives of others, both materially and spiritually. Usually, the best charities operate off the smell of an oily rag! For instance, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity! Catholic Mission!  Aid to the Church in Need!  Anthony Herro reminds me about St Jude’s School in Tanzania!  Dr Paul Morrissey reminds me about Campion College! Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP reminds me about the Seminary of the Good Shepherd at Homebush! and St Mary’s Cathedral where, even today, Mass is celebrated at least three times per day, confessions are heard each day!  St Mary’s Cathedral is the mother church of Australia! the resting place of the Archbishops of Sydney!

Another Child 
One approach might be to regard charity as an additional child.  So, if one has three children, split one’s assets in four ways, one quarter for each of the three children, and one quarter for charity.

Say Nothing 
I have always thought the less one says about one’s testamentary intentions, especially to one’s beneficiaries, the better!  It is tasteless, indeed manipulative, to speak about one’s will!  As the old aphorism goes, one cannot rule from the grave!

Do everything possible to avoid disputes and family provision claims! I am not in favour of “disinheriting” one’s children, no matter what they have done! I have been far from perfect as a son! Why should I expect more from my children?

Hopefully one’s children are living their lives, doing useful things, not relying on a windfall at the time of their parents’ decease.

But families differ, so there are no hard and fast rules.

I hope, following my falling off the twig, there is a Requiem Mass, and a priest to say it!  I will be disappointed if someone proposes a “celebration” of my life, as I know I am a sinner, and I know I have not been all I ought have been, and I would not want anyone pretending otherwise.  I am not keen on fulsome and fictitious eulogies which no one believes.  A Requiem Mass celebrated by a humble priest in some nondescript suburban church (but reaching back to the Crucifixion at Calvary, and the Resurrection three days later) with the angels and saints, stands in contrast to the sad, banal and visceral ceremonies one so often encounters.

St Augustine, in his Confessions, is a model, writing prayerfully, from the perspective of scripture, being entirely frank about his sins, looking forward to that new creation in heaven, which is the goal of our striving, producing the world’s second autobiography (Josephus Flavius’ partial autobiography is the first), one of the great works of our civilisation.  Most subsequent biographies, in contrast to Augustine, adopt the “I did it my way”, and “I was entirely right”, approach.

I am rather keen on a booze up after a funeral, preferably at someone’s home, where there is an opportunity to tell tall and uncensored stories about the deceased, tall and uncensored stories that focus on the deceased’s idiosyncrasies!  Of course, one needs to be respectful, especially having regard to the feelings of survivors, but to me, humour is essential to any farewell!  This is a time for family and friends to get together, and renew past friendships.

Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell – the Four Last Things are reality.  This is an opportunity for family and friends to think about that reality, not engage in banal nothings, characterised by fantasy and superficiality.  This is a time to forgive past wrongs, a time to put aside coldness and enmity, to abandon hatred.  God’s forgiveness depends on our willing to forgive everyone, no matter what.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Church encourages us in the course of our death to freely unite ourselves to the Passion and Death of Jesus.  The Anointing of the Sick gives us strength, peace and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness and old age.  The Anointing of the Sick prepares us to pass over to eternal life.  We can, if we will, transform our own death into an act of obedience and love towards the Father, after the example of Jesus Christ.  Hopefully, before I fall off the twig, there will be a priest to hear my Confession, administer the Anointing of the Sick, give me “Viaticum”, to see me on my way!
It is important to remember, as the Council of Trent teaches, there is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his or her repentance is honest.

Often the relatives of a sick person delay calling the priest until the person is unconscious and incapable of making a good Confession.  This is a false kindness, a demonstration of lack of faith, a great lack of charity to a parent or person to whom we are indebted.  The unwillingness to face the certainty of death, and seek forgiveness of our sins, is a demonstration of how so many, even apparently practising Catholics, live in total unreality. Call the priest early!

Many parishes these days have answering services which may put off callers. Don’t be put off!  If the priest is reluctant to come, insist – or even better find another priest who has a greater sense of his priesthood. Attending the sick and dying with the sacraments is what the priesthood is about!

Recently I have been reading Henri de Lubac SJ’s The Drama of Atheistic Humanism (1943). Henri de Lubac was a French Jesuit; a member of the French Resistance; a key player in the Ressourcement School, which argued for a return to the sources of Christian belief, scripture and the writings of the Fathers; a theologian whose thought was important for the Second Vatican Council; one of the great theologians (with Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger) of the twentieth century. Recently, the French bishops have suggested de Lubac’s path to canonisation.

The Drama of Atheistic Humanism was written at a time when two of the greatest armies of the modern era, fuelled by the atheistic ideologies of Nazism and Communism, were tearing Europe apart, trampling on human dignity and human rights. The Drama of Atheistic Humanism considers the origins of these atheistic ideologies in the thought of Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche. De Lubac argues that Feuerbach, Marx and Nietzsche represent a “new” atheism which rejects any rational consideration of the possibility of God.

There is nothing to argue about, nothing to discuss.  One ought not even concede the possibility that reason might establish God’s existence.  The question does not arise.

In abolishing God, according to de Lubac, these thinkers abolish the human person, they abolish human dignity, they abolish respect for human rights, they abolish respect for human decency.

But de Lubac argues these thinkers are right in their rejection of the emaciated, self-satisfied, bourgeois Christianity to which we adhere.

De Lubac asks:
Thus [Nietzsche’s] animosity is against the Christians of our day, against us.  The lash of his scorn is for our mediocracies and our hypocrisies.  It searches out our weaknesses, adorned with fine names.  In reminding us of the robust and joyous austerity of ‘primitive Christianity’ he calls shame on our ‘present day Christianity’, as ‘mawkish and nebulous’.  Can it be contended that he is quite wrong?  Should ‘everything that now goes by the name of Christian’ be defended against him?  When he says of us, for instance:  ‘If they want me to believe in their Saviour, they’ll have to sing me better hymns!  His followers will have to look more like men who have been saved!’ – are we entitled to be indignant?  To how many of us does Christianity really seem ‘something big, something growing, to which we can give ourselves complete with joy and enthusiasm’?  Do the unbelievers who jostle us at every turn observe on our brows the radiance of that gladness which, twenty centuries ago, captivated the fine flower of the pagan world?  Are our hearts the hearts of men risen with Christ?  Do we, in our time, bear witness to the Beatitudes? …v That is the tragedy of the present situation.  However, things may have been in the past (we are told), the Christianity of today, your Christianity, is the enemy of Life, because it is no longer itself alive. 

Christian Heroism 
De Lubac further argues:
In the present state of the world, a virile, strong Christianity must become a heroic Christianity … It will consist, above all, in resisting with courage, in face of the world and perhaps against one’s own self, the lures and seductions of a false ideal and in proudly maintaining, in their paradoxical intransigence, the Christian values that are threatened an derided … Gentleness and goodness, considerateness towards the lowly, pity for those who suffer, rejection of perverse methods, protection of the oppressed, unostentatious self-sacrifice, resistance to lies, the courage to call evil by its proper name, love of justice, the spirit of peace and concord, open heartedness, mindfulness of heaven; those are the things that Christian heroism will rescue … Christians have not been promised that they will always be in the majority.  (Rather the reverse).  Nor that they will always seem the strongest and that men will never be conquered by another ideal than theirs; but, whatever happens, Christianity will never have any real efficacy, it will never have any real existence or make any real conquests, except by the strength of its own spirit, by the strength of charity.  

In rejecting the new atheism, we must accept the radical challenge of the Four Last Things to emaciated, self-satisfied, bourgeois Christianity.

Henri de Lubac’s thought owes much to the Thomistic view which fairmindedly concedes whatever truth there is in one’s opponent’s thought.

De Lubac also owes much to that Spanish nobleman and soldier, St Ignatius of Loyola, whose Spiritual Exercises invite us to consider the stark choice we must make, a choice by which we will be judged. Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell – the Four Last Things are four realities which we must each confront.

Michael McAuley
Friday 27 October