Not everyone is a sci-fi nerd. Nobody’s perfect. But most people in the English-speaking world still have a favourite Doctor Who. Mine is the Fourth Doctor – Tom Baker: one of my few non-priest clothes is a copy of his long colourful scarf.
This variety of Doctors is a reason for the show’s popularity. Not only because there’s a variety, but for a deeper unconscious reason: unlike Lazarus, unlike even Jesus himself, the Doctor does not die. He simply ‘regenerates’ – he changes physically and psychologically, while retaining the same technical knowledge.
Death is dark for us for two reasons. One is the harrowing experience of when someone close to us dies. It is always a shock – because, suddenly, that person disappears. They are gone. A person is so irreplaceable that not only do we suffer because we miss them – our whole reality changes. This is the experience of Mary and Martha: their brother, a large part of their reality since they were little, is gone.
The other reason of course is our own experience of dying: that powerlessness that no matter what anyone does, we will still be dragged through a door behind which we know not, alone. Our friends and family cannot go with us. This is the raw power of paganism, the power of Death. And, lived like this, it is very scary.
It is this darkness that Jesus, the Anointed One, God himself, has this week started walking up to to confront. As baptised Christians, part of his body, we, in the liturgy, confront this with him. But we can wonder, well, what good does Jesus do? What good does my faith do? I’m going to die anyway, Christianity doesn’t seem to stop that, so what’s the point? It is a good question. The answer is that, thanks to Jesus, not one but three alternatives are now possible.
The first one is that Jesus can respond to my prayer by healing my loved one. Jesus hears every prayer, and I suspect he says yes to the majority of them.
A second of these new alternatives is that we die but no longer alone: we die in the hand of God. And so when we find ourselves dead, we find at our side Jesus, our creator, the Light of the World, having chased away the darkness with the infinite light of his burning sacred heart. And I discover that not only is he there, but there are others: God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, and the Virgin Mary, and billions of angels and all the heroes of Christianity and of true justice. This is called heaven.
And there is a third alternative: the one where, if we know Jesus and he knows us, many of us will first come to. It is called Purgatory. The Church still teaches Purgatory, for very good reason: it is the place where all my dreams come true. Because in Purgatory, all of those desires I have had all my life – of having a pure heart, of loving perfectly, of being free from every evil – all of this happens in Purgatory so that, when I arrive in heaven, I don’t have to spend eternity with all these nasty things. I am pure and perfect for all the rest of eternity.
All of this is important because these are nothing atheism can offer. According to atheism, we die, and that’s it: we’re annihilated into dust, as, in fact, we are not special or important, disappearing without explanation and without objective meaning, a memory of people who, too, will disappear. Only Jesus Christ offers and gives these alternatives to us – if we choose to accept them.