Have you ever taken the time to think about the death of a star? When people talk about the end of the world, I think about the death of our sun. Do you know which will come first, it burning up our world or it cooling off so much that we freeze? What about stars bigger than our sun? Do they act the same?
All stars are made of hydrogen gas fuel. When the core of the star runs out of fuel, the equilibrium between the core and the gravitational pull falls out of balance. This causes the core to collapse. As the core collapses, everything outside the core becomes hot enough to begin fusing hydrogen. As fusion in this shell begins, the extra heat causes the outer layers of the star to expand dramatically, up to several hundred times the former size of the star. With the energy at the star’s surface far more dissipated, the surface begins to cool, turning from white or yellow to red. A red giant is formed. While most stars then quietly fade away into a black dwarf, if a star is high-mass, it expands to a red supergiant. These supergiants destroy themselves in a huge explosion, called a supernova.
Unfortunately, supernovae visible to the naked eye are rare. One occurs in our galaxy every few hundred years, so there is no guarantee you will ever see one in your lifetime. In 1987, a supernova called 1987A was visible in a nearby galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud. This galaxy is 160,000 light years away. The outburst was visible to the naked eye, and is the brightest known supernova in almost 400 years. Below is an image captured of it. The blue-purple is multimillion degree gas captured on camera by the Chandra Telescope.
I’ve really been spending time thinking about how the death of one star can be seen and felt for TRILLIONS of miles away. That seems so significant. I’ve been thinking about this because my great aunt died last week, and her death was not some big explosion felt by all for miles and miles around. She was 98 and had lived a long good life, but few outside of our local area had ever known her.
The thing is… her death WAS like a supernova. She was a lifelong Catholic and we believe that we are spiritually joined to every other Catholic for the last 2,000 years and to all saints in heaven through the Eucharist. That is why we call it communion because we are united in communion with all of the saints on heaven and on earth when we come to that table. The Catechism states, “All the sacraments are sacred links uniting the faithful with one another… The name 'communion' can be applied to all of them, for they unite us to God. . . . But this name is better suited to the Eucharist than to any other, because it is primarily the Eucharist that brings this communion about."(CCC 950)
Because of this fact, her death is felt by many. So many people are spiritually connected to her and thus affected by her death. This gives me hope for all of our deaths. It brings me joy that we are connected, that we can continue to pray for those in purgatory that they may reach heaven, and that those in heaven can pray for all of us here. This community, this connectedness, helps me to remember that each of our lives AND deaths are significant. Each of us matter.
Today we start the season of Lent. In the Ash Wednesday Mass we are told, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This humbles us, reminding us how small we are compared to God, but it also reminds us that we are mortal and we will eventually die. Often we see this as a sad reminder, but there is joy knowing that even in death we will still have community and still be in communion with the faithful on Earth. This thought truly brings me joy and hope when contemplating my loved one’s deaths and my own.
If you are dealing with a death close to you, my prayers this week are offered up for you, that you may find healing. I also pray that you will find joy and hope knowing that you are not alone in your grief for the loss of this life. If you are not dealing with a recent loss, I hope that you will pray for those in purgatory who have no one to pray for them. Their deaths were not insignificant, they were a supernova type of event to all of the faithful. They matter, and we hope that they will reach heaven and experience the eternal joy.