A bottle of good whisky, and why my father isn't an angel.

A reflection on Father's Day & ontology from the Rev Dr. Michael Halsall.

I have seen a few posts leading up to this weekend's Fathers' Day, displaying a strange misreading of what it means to be human, pre and postmortem : before and after death. I am talking about the phenomena of humans 'transitioning' to Angels, upon death, and at God's divine will and providence. Whilst this may be well-meaning, it displays on the one hand a human desire to want the best for those whom we love, yet on the other hand it displays also a misunderstanding of human anthropology.

A recent mobile phone provider - O2- marketed the catchphrase, 'Be More Dog'. Whilst this was an amusing concept, it betrays an ontological (essential) truth about cats. A cat can only be a good cat by being more feline, not more canine. To be good, truly good, is to be raised up in our own natures. In Aristotle's language, we are moving from a state of potentiality to actuality, and in the Christian context, that involves having an essential connection between this life and the next.

St Paul, speaking to the Greek Christians in Corinth, used the language of both Plato and Aristotle in his exposition of human Resurrection (1 Cor 15). What is sown in dishonour - a physical mutable body, capable of decay - will be raised a spiritual, immutable, and glorious body. There will be a correspondence between the two, and we shall be known as such. What we are in life, will be realised in death : transformed, not annihilated; assumed, and not consumed. St Paul also tells us that we shall see God as he really is : "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood". (1 Cor 13:12)

In this account of life after death, it is improper to consider us becoming Angels. What is good in us in this life is transformed in death in the light of God's super-essential goodness. What is lacking, what is evil (less than good), will be purified or purged from us in that transformation. When my father died nearly four years ago, I said the Office for the Dead alongside his open coffin. Whilst it was very difficult at the time, it was also a moment of rare beauty in my life, and I felt very close to him. He is not dead : he is alive, but in a manner which transcends life as we experience it. You might say that, in Christ, he is now 'more than' he was ... more John. In his own unique personhood, he is some thing, as opposed to something else. And that is how God is said to have ordered it.

Leading up to Fathers' Day, I was asked what my son and daughter might buy me. I asked for a bottle of whisky, Famous Grouse I think. What I received today was a beautifully packaged bottle of Haig whisky, from their Club range. It is 'more than' what I asked for and expected; because the gift exceeded my expectation, it left me being 'more than' what I was before. The attached card kindly and lovingly told me that as a father of two lovely adult children, I am worth more than Famous Grouse. The gift of life is God's gift par excellence, and any gifts that we offer are a reflection of that gift to us. They raise us up in small ways, as we shall become what we truly are, in the gaze of the beatific vision of God.

Michael Halsall is a priest for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and a Doctor of Philosophy. He teaches at Westcliff High School for Boys in Southend and lectures Seminarians at Allen Hall. He was ordained priest in May by Bishop Alan Williams SM.


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