Few anime possess the brilliance of Space Pirate Captain Harlock. On the night when I became inspired to write this article, I watched no fewer than seven episodes in a row. This viewing also happened to give me another, more happy topic, but the topic of death appeared more interesting. To be more precise, Captain Harlock inspired me to write about a theme in Catholic eschatology. Episode 17, “The Skeleton Hero,” was unique in focusing on the life of the Arcadia’s chief engineer, especially his relationship with his former captain, Yamanaka of the warship The Braves. (Most of the crew have amazing backstories.) What caused this reminiscence was the Arcadia receiving a distress message from Captain Yamanaka, whose ship has become stranded in the Horsehead Nebula.
Unfortunately, when our heroes find The Braves, all that ship’s crew are reduced to skull and bones. To their surprise, the remains of Captain Yamanaka are discovered standing upright at the helm. Captain Harlock comments: “Even in death, he holds the helm. He was a true man of the sea.” Though we may not be fortunate to have as epic of a death, our character may influence the posture people find us in when we die. Dr. David Livingstone’s body was found kneeling in prayer at his bedside, Martin Luther’s hands naturally assumed the shape they took while writing upon his death, and St. Benedict asked two of his followers to hold up his arms as he expired in prayer before the altar. We can see the way these people lived in the way they died.
This brings up this theme in Catholic eschatology: “…where the tree falls, there it will lie” (Ecclesiastes 11:3). I first came across this concept in St. John Bosco’s Vision of Hell, which showed certain orphans under St. John Bosco’s care, who were the in a state of mortal sin, falling into hell and lying immobile in the flames. As applied to death, it means that as we are at death, so we shall be for eternity. Those who hate God and refuse to repent, shall hate God forever. Those who loved God and fully repented shall immediately go to love God in His Kingdom. Those who repented imperfectly shall be purified slowly or quickly before arriving in the Heavenly Kingdom, depending on their debt to God’s justice and their love of God. In what state shall we find ourselves at the moment of death?
The answer to the above question is determined each day of our lives. People little realize the importance of the day. We say, “Tomorrow, I shall do penance. Today, I’ll enjoy myself.” But, the roots of tomorrow are in today, and procrastination in conversion may lead to endless backsliding. God often expresses His Mercy by giving us more time, but it remains with us to use this time to get closer to God or closer to hell. St. Anthony the Great would start each day by saying to himself that he had done nothing yet for God.
What is even more surprising about St. Anthony is that he lived for one hundred and five years (251 – 356 A.D.) with about eighty-five of these lived according to ascetic discipline. How easy it would be to backslide over such a long time! St. Thomas a Kempis remarks in his The Imitation of Christ that it is considered a great thing if a monk merely maintains the same fervor with which he began his vocation. This situation reminds me of the parable in Luke 12:42-46, where Our Lord commends us to be always diligent “…for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not” (Luke 12:40). Perseverance in faith and good works is a grace for which we should always pray. Let us imitate St. Anthony of Egypt and Captain Yamanaka so that God finds us at our posts when that final hour dawns on us.