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Death and Fulness of Life

Purpose of this Book

This book contains thoughts on death and fulness of life that Phil taught and wrote in Biblical commentaries, classes on Old and New Testament, monographs on Biblical themes, and in his daily Journals/Notes to his wife, Lois. May they comfort you.

Excerpt from Phil’s class: Gospel according to John.
Viterbo University, LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Summer, 1967.

Before Jesus was taken and led to his death, he was filled with fear and anxiety. He wondered what the father wanted him to do. This was a real human response.

If Adam has not sinned, would there be death? I think “yes” because death is the passage into the fulness of life. The fulness of life is assured by our service to others. We enter the “telos” (Greek word) of our life through death. The fulness of life is “eis telos” - “into the conclusion, fulness, or completeness” by what you have established in life. That fulness is measured by service to others. You can have love of self only if you have served others.


Whenever a loved one dies, the friends and relatives are filled with sorrow and sadness. The reason is quite simple. Death has taken someone away and there is a sense of emptiness or loss that cannot be replaced. The closer the person was to the people and the more he or she was loved, the deeper the sense of loss will be.

Death is a separation but not an end to living. The comforting thought is that the person who died has gone on to meet other members of the family and is perfectly happy. When the wait on earth is over, you will go to join them.

Death is a positive idea in the same way that planting crops, watching them grow, and harvesting them is a positive process.

Excerpt from Commentary* on “Book of Wisdom.”
* Vol. 2. Commentaries on the Bible: Old Testament and Biblical Themes.

The writer (of Book of Wisdom) treats the problem of people who die young or in their infancy. Where is the love of this God? The writers answer that it is not length of days that gives value to life. Rather, the true value of life comes from the way in which those days are lived. (Wisdom 4:7-14)

Excerpts from Personal Journals/Notes of Philip G. Roets
The following excerpts apply to death and fulness of life.

May 4, 1980.
It’s a beautiful day. Each spring we have the season of big dreams and great promises. Then comes the season of heavy work - the summer. Then follows the season of maturing - the fall. Finally comes the season of enjoyment of the promises, goals and work - the winter.

We never attain all the goals set in the spring. We never collect all the promises that were made. But that’s why we need another spring. Each year gives us a chance to improve on the last one. Spring, and the following seasons, becomes meaningless only if we get into a rut and do exactly the same thing in exactly the same way each year. Then we fall into the emptiness of monotony.

May 26, 1980. Memorial Day.
On Memorial Day we stop and recall the men and women who believed in this way of life. They believed in it enough that they were willing to fight for it against someone who would destroy it. It is true, wars are destructive foolishness. They add nothing positive to the growth of mankind. But at times force is the only way an aggressor can be stopped. The men and women who died frequently did not believe in war but they did believe in our country and this way of life.

July 1, 1980.
Yesterday I was working on the final verses from the Song of Songs. “Love is to be worn as a seal on your heart and on your arm. Love is stronger than death and Sheol. The hottest fire cannot destroy love.” The poetic meter in the original Hebrew is beautiful but the ideas are the same in any language. Love must be the source of courage and the motivating force of all action. Love does not end with death nor does it come to a standstill as in the state of suspended animation that was Sheol. Fire can melt even the strongest steel but love it cannot touch.

I watched an older couple in the grocery store. She was in a wheelchair and he was pushing it with one hand and pulling the cart with the other. They were shopping together. She needed him to get around. He needed her to get supplies. Their looks and actions bespoke years of love. This love will not end when one of them dies.

July 27, 1980.
I like the sense of completion I see in the fall. I also always had something new to add to school classes that begin in the fall.

February 4, 1981.

We are certainly used to adjustments. We’ve made many in our personal lives, religious life, and in our marriage. We will have more adjustments to make.

We’ll pull along together.
Our love binds our cooperation;
Our sincerity smooths out the rough patches.

January 26, 1982.
When I awoke this morning my first thought was in part of our conversation of last night. What is the after-life? Or, what will it be like after death?

I like the New Testament term for death - “palingenesis” Greek word for “a rebirth”. We start over from where we are to become a more complete or perfect being. The one difference is that it is no longer a period of testing but a period of fulness and arrival.

In Second Timothy, Paul uses three comparisons: 1) the athlete who has played hard and is now a recognized pro in the Hall of Fame; 2) a soldier who has fought hard but now the battle is won; 3) a farmer who has worked and toiled but now the harvest is gathered into the barn and he can enjoy the fruits of his labors. However he starts to plan for next year.

I think this question and these attempted answers are the heart of human living.

October 26, 1982.
It surprises me but the older I get the less I am worried about what happens after I die. I feel I am following my conscience sincerely. I hurt people’s feelings at times but it is seldom out of meanness. I am quick to recognize the failure and admit and sincerely want to do something to atone. So I feel I can live at peace with myself and that’s all I can do.

In short, we write the symphony of our lives which does not die any more than the symphonies of Beethoven.

December 19, 1982.
As I look out on the world of winter, I see a time of fulfillment and a time of promise; a time of challenge and a time of security; a time to be treasured and a time to be used.

April 10, 1984.
You asked me what feelings I have when I hear that men like Bill and Ty (priests and friends of Phil from Milwaukee) are gone. I suppose it is just the inevitability of death. In my adult life, I have talked to dying people many times and have discussed and preached about death so often that I have very positive convictions about it.

I have always felt that death will be a satisfying part of life if you are content with the person you have made yourself to be. I am firmly convinced that people do not cease to be. I firmly believe that people like (Fathers) Bill Loesch and Lenz, and all the others who really spent their lives in the service of others, live on in some way to enjoy the personality they have created. Such a belief is a part of every known tradition of human thought.

May 18-19, 1984.
A person must have roots, wings and memories. The roots will give us an identity and sense of personal worth. The wings will give support to ambitions. And the memories are what remain for all times.

The interaction with others and events causes or makes memories. That is what is left of you after the events are gone. Our continued existence is primarily the way in which we live on in the lives of others. Whether there is anything more than that remains to be seen. But we do know and can see how others live in us and how we already live in them.

September 4, 1984.
There is no clear explanation for sickness, evil or death except that they are built into the system and are the other side of the coin.

February 9, 1986.
Wayne (Phil’s brother-in-law, husband of his sister in Kansas) has brought up all the questions of the “whys” and “wherefores” of living and dying. I never dig too deeply into them because I find my reasons for living in the immediate job I am doing. I never did have an answer for dying and I still don’t. Everyone else has died and no one has ever returned to tell us about it. So I figure I’ll make the best of it when my turn comes.

August 8, 1986.
I want to jot down the statement at your Uncle Henry’s funeral:

“You people have gathered here not because Henry died but because he lived among you.” That is the fullest and richest encomium of praise I have ever heard in so few words.

Oct 3, 1986.
Everything will come to a good end with a few setbacks in between. That’s life and we’ve lived through it often.

January 6, 1987.
Working with many older people, one adjective fits all of them is “unpredictable.” As the body builds up in varied ways, so it wears down in varied ways.

July 23, 1987.
As for life hereafter or some sort of continuance in being, I feel sure each person continues to enjoy what he/she has made self to be. I don’t know how because it is the next stage of life.

June 20, 1988 .
I enjoyed our discussion of the Joannine (writings of John) ideas of life and death, last night. The crudity and barbarity of the fertility rites of Roman times always appalled and disgusted me. The Apocalyptic writers of the Old Testament, starting with Ezechial, began to write against them.

Then the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) offered the various aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven as the counteraction. Finally by 125 A.D., the Joannine writer was able to take the analogies of life and death: seed, plant and fruit, death and renewal, and show how all of these were to be established in this life by sincere respect and love the people had for each other. They shared in their community or family meals. I think the “ritual” as seen in John was that every meal (evening) was to be an expression of “koinonia” (Greek word for “sharing“) as the Passover had been for the Jews. The Christian life would then change death into life as Christ had done by his willingness to live and die for his ideals.

This, I think, is the essence of Christian ideals. It is a philosophy of life with no community larger than the local one, no ritual other than a family meal or a potluck supper, and no organization other than the world about them. This would become “the eternal life” narrated by John -- the life that would last forever.

January 15-19, 1989.
Your Dad died a peaceful death surrounded by his family. All the ravages of sickness, age and death were removed and he was presented for that final viewing as the handsome, well-groomed man that he was. People of all ages walked past him to seal their final memory of the man they knew, loved, respected, admired and imitated. The funeral dinner was by way of a banquet celebration.

August 27, 1989. Topic: Phil observed, enjoyed, and respected nature.
When I moved the box of twigs and grass clippings, I found 18 huge night crawlers on the cement under the leaves. I’m sure they crawled out of their holes to avoid drowning and got under the leaves where it was moist and safe. I put all of them back on the grass and left it up to their ingenuity to get in the soil again.

September 15, 1989. Topic: The Seasons.
Spring is always a sense of awakening and coming back to life after a time of cold, snow, frost and ice. It’s wonderful to see the rich green take over the drab browns and grays of winter. There is also an urgency for the work that has to begin.

Fall, to me, is a sense of expectancy that comes from the gathering. The reward of labor is being brought in. There is an air of getting ready to rest and enjoy what has been earned or made. The flowers and plants of spring look fine and brittle. The flowers and plants of fall look strong and worn and productive.

The changing of the seasons is a sign of the mobility of nature and the stability of the plan.

March 17, 1990. Event: Pauline Lohkamp Roets, Philip’s Mother, died.
I believe a person goes on to whatever comes after this life. The person is whatever he or she has made of self in the course of this life. Saint Ambrose (4th century, A.D.) described life and death centuries ago, in a way that always appealed to me. He said a person is born into this life with a certain amount of ability. Life and life’s events are the time and occasions to develop your person into the self you want to be. When death comes you will be able to receive the amount of fulness or completion that you have developed the capacity for. I adapted Ambrose’s ideas to the making of a wagon. The size, kind, and capacity are the work of a lifetime. At death, that wagon will be filled to capacity according to my making. Every wagon will be full but the amount depends on the size of the wagon. Mom’s wagon will be full whatever its size.

July 26, 1991.
I am reminded of our discussion on life and its meaning. I think I have clarified a notion for myself. I think life is a continuous gift. It has a beginning but no end.

There are three stages: The Genesis: This is the act of receiving life or being born onto this earth. Then comes years of Becoming: the years of identifying ourselves. This is done by the manner in which we respond to the people in our lives. The only failure is irresponsible selfishness. Nothing remains to be remembered.

Finally, there is the Pleroma (Greek word): or the Fulness or the fulfillment of the person’s life. The transition, called death, takes place. Each person enters the full family of mankind to enjoy the person they have become. Everyone will be someone. But some will be wizened, scrawny shrimps because of a totally selfish life. They will be loved for what they are but they are so little.

Heaven is the unending meeting and enjoying 0f all the people who went before you, lived with you, and came after you. How will this happen? I don’t know but we keep learning. Heavy! But intriguing!

October 19, 1991. Topic: Lois often asked Phil for his perspective.
You asked about people having enemies. The only place on earth where we are certain that human beings get along perfectly is in the cemetery. Corpses do nothing so they can’t bother or challenge anyone. If you are active and accomplishing something, you are sure to irritate someone.

January 19, 1992.
Your Mom was in deep reverie. She was clearly recalling her past and missing all the people connected with it, especially your Dad. I saw this so often with people as they get older. The familiar faces disappear one by one. Their children and grandchildren were there and enjoyed but part of their life was gone.

I read in the AARP bulletin that many retired persons become alcoholics. Some have had the problem all their lives but as their metabolism slows down the body will not detoxify the alcohol and there is a build-up in the blood. Others begin to drink as their lives slow down, their partners die, their families move away, and they get lonely. These people can be helped to develop new friends and to make sure they do something worthwhile with their time.

February 3, 1994.
You asked about contact with people beyond the grave. This is one of the principal reasons for the resurrection stories in the Gospels. The writers wanted to point out, first of all, that death is not the end. Each individual lives on as him/herself. There is a difference that was explained because all suffering, pain, and hardships were gone.

February 13-14, 1995.
The Latin phrase “Requiescat in Pace”, which is usually translated as “Rest in Peace”, would be a final wish that should be translated “Enjoy yourself totally and worry about nothing.” We need some more realistic description of “eternal” and “peace”. The first Christians had them; “churches” lost them.

January 1, 1996.
I look back to see the successes and to enjoy them again. The sad events over which I have no control, I put out of mind because mulling them over does no good and changes nothing.

Death is one of those events. It is not a sad event for the person who dies if he/she has lived a life of sharing, working and growing. The person who dies comes into true fulfillment and enjoys all who have gone before.

For the people left behind, there is a sad parting but the surety of meeting again. Death is not unfair. It is just a question of when the body wears out. For some people this can be over 90 years. For others it can be much less.

This is a detached way of viewing death but it is the most fruitful way for me.

March 29, 1996.
I think that people who die mingle freely with each other and are aware of what is happening with those left behind. Once in a while they can contact people here on earth but most of the time they have to let us work out our own lives.

They are not gone. We just can’t see them but they are enjoying each other in a very real world called Eden. When we finish our lives, we’ll go to meet them.

July 18, 1996.
The judgment scene at the end of Matthew’s Gospel is the best picture of the whole idea. “Come, blessed of my father! Enter into the kingship (or be kinged) as intended from the beginning. For I was hungry, and you fed me, etc.”

July 30, 1996. (Phil’s comments on doctor-assisted suicide)
There is no reason why a person should suffer uselessly in a terminal state. Pain and suffering have no value in themselves and doctors have worked to remove it all times. Jesus escaped from his suffering and death on several occasions. Finally, he decided there was no escape, so he let himself be taken.

I see no reason why a person cannot consciously ask for help to die. This decision cannot be foisted on them but it is theirs to make.

September 2, 1996.
I like what the New Testament gospels tell us about this after-life. After Jesus was raised from the dead, he was the same person. He had the same body, even to the points of scars and eating. Yet he was totally different and was going to full union with those who had gone before.

March 26, 1997.
I don’t see how the dire picture of heaven, hell or purgatory ever got such a strong hold. Even in the worst translation of the Bible and early writings, it is impossible. The Old Testament presents only the “Bosom of Abraham”. If you did not live up to the Law sincerely, you were banished to Sheol - the place of no identity. In the New Testament, it is the contrast between the presence of the Father (identity) and the Valley of Hinnom (no identity). The criterion was/is: How did you treat your fellow human beings?

May 19, 1997.
You brought up communications between people in this world or life and the next. I think there are interplays if the person on this side is receptive to receiving.

April 8, 1998.
I marvel at the way my Dad kept trying in spite of one bad year after another. The good years were 1912-29. Edward (Phil’s brother) was killed in an accident in ’29; ’30 was a dry year; then the depression. In spite of all, Pop never crumbled as many did.

November 1-2, 1998. Topic: Discussing All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
When you die, God is not sitting there as some stern judge. Christ’s picture was very simple. Answer the one question, “How did you respond to the needs of the people around you?” This “sharing” or “harmony” determines how much you could enjoy all of eternity. This point is crystal clear in the Gospels according to Luke, Matthew and John. The Letter of James makes one statement about prayer for the dead and on that, theologians and popes built a whole theology of guilt and punishment.

August 27-29, 1999.
The first stage of this “fulfillment” was Christ on the Cross and his word “tetelestai” meaning “It is complete!” He had established the pattern by which the plan can be followed and completed - harmony and sharing. Now it’s up to us.

May 30-June 3, 2000.
When we die, we go to meet all that are gone before us. As Matthew says, “I was hungry and you fed me. I needed clothes and a home and you took care of my needs. I was sick and you cared for me.” That is the recipe for complete happiness. John says simply “Life and love are service.”

October 27, 2000.
You asked what heaven is like according to the Biblical notion. In the Old Testament, the afterlife - if it was good - was to be in the “lap of Abraham”. This meant that all the Jews who had lived lives according to the Torah would be happy and live with all other faithful Jews. The unfaithful would be tossed into Sheol which was a place of total loneliness and frustration.

In the New Testament, Christ very clearly tells us what the life after death really is. It was not something mysterious but fulfilling. In Matthew’s picture it is the full and total sharing with everyone. John has identically the same notion except he calls it service. 𠇊nyone who says he loves God whom he cannot see, and does not love his neighbor whom he can see, is a liar and the truth is not in him.”

So right now, the members of your family and mine who have departed are enjoying each other.

July 20-25, 2001. Trip to Wichita, Kansas, to attend funeral of Phil’s younger brother, Francis.
I was glad we were able to go to Wichita for the funeral of Francis. After Martha died, (wife of Francis who died 10 years before him) Francis’s joy of life left him. He was like an empty shell. He got diabetes and that added further problems.

I met people at the funeral I had not seen for years - some since 1948 when I was ordained a priest. My generation in both Roets and Lohkamp families are almost all passed on. Francis and Martha are together again and happy.

October 7-16, 2001.
As I looked at the beautiful fall trees on the way to the post office and the bank, I thought of what the changing of the leaves means. In the spring, the leaves “bud out” and we are all happy that spring has returned. Then for a whole summer, these leaves fill the air with the elements we need for breathing. They form a chain with the roots of the tree to keep its life-cycle rolling. Then in the fall, the leaves give up the green and adopt all the gorgeous colors, to announce the fruits of the fall and the preparation for winter.

These brilliant colors are shown to remind us that the leaves did not die. They completed their work and now will collect for their next stage in the cycle of nature.

June 18, 2002.
Authority is to be the leadership of the Shepherd (pastor) and the firmness of the Kepha (foundation stone). As a pastor, authority is to be out in front leading and calling all to follow to the green pasture, fresh water, afternoon rest, and the safety of the fold at night. As the Kepha, authority is to be the firm foundation on which all confidence is based. The shepherd figure stresses how well the leaders must know the personalities and needs of the flock and how to minister to each. The Kepha stresses that firmness of the sharing or community is found in the leader. Peter was called “Kepha” when Jesus selected him as leader. The picture is simple.

September 24, 2002. Vol. 92. Phil’s last journal entry.


Good evening. I just closed the curtains. It’s starting to go to the dark side of the day. I ate the chicken and carrots. The carrots were excellent and the chicken was good.

My brother, Tom, called this afternoon. Celie had called him and told him I was going in for surgery. He was an RN in the Marines for 20 years. He is worried about the war in the Middle East. One of his boys is in the Marines and the other is in the Army. Both are already in the Middle East.

Thanks for all you have done and are doing for me. I really appreciate your concern and all the details you have taken care of. I certainly would have avoided this whole “mess” (cancer of the bladder and the bladder will be surgically removed) but I have nothing to say about that. While I was sitting in my chair this morning, I looked at the picture of the Good Shepherd and suggested that he use some of his power to clear up my medical problems. He just smiled and said nothing.

I love you, Sweetie, ex imo corde, Phil