The Church’s liturgical year is drawing closer to its end. As it does, our Scripture readings focus our attention on the end of the age and the return of the Lord Jesus in glory. The Scripture readings also invite us to reflect on our own mortality and the reality that one day death will claim our mortal body, but that our soul is eternal.
Most people will tell you that as we age we become increasingly aware of how fleeting life is, and how precarious is our hold over it. It spite of ourselves we become familiar with the thought that death is a reality.
St. Benedict in his Rule for the monastic community told the monks “to keep death daily before your eyes.” He did not write this to be negative or morbid. He used it as a reminder that death should be seen in a positive light. Reflecting on death can result in a true love of life. When we are familiar with death, we accept each day as a gift from our loving God. When we accept life bit by bit like this, it becomes very precious.
When we face our mortality we are put in touch with that other life, eternal life, the seed of which has been implanted in our hearts and souls through the waters of baptism. Death is merely a transition, a passage to a new life, which utterly transcends the life we know on this earth. While this all sounds awesome and beautiful, it doesn’t mean that it is easy.
When we stop and think about it, our passage from this world is preceded by many other smaller passages. Life is constantly in transition day by day. When we were born we made the passage from life in the security of our mother’s womb to life outside the womb in a world totally unfamiliar to us. When we went to school we made the passage from life in the family to life in the larger community. Those who have married have made the passage from a life with many options to a life of total commitment to one person. Those who have retired have made a passage from a life of clearly defined work to a life without such work, and more leisure. Each of these passages results in a kind of death but also leads to new life. When we live these passages well, we are preparing ourselves for our final passage.
The thing that helps us to confront the reality of death is our Christian faith. Faith enables us to face death with courage and hope. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who died from pancreatic cancer on November 14, 1996, wrote in his book, “The Gift of Peace,” that “death is our friend, not the enemy.” St. Francis of Assisi said that “death is the final gift God gives to us.” It releases us from the chains of this mortal existence so that we may live eternally.
Cardinal Bernardin also wrote these words in November 1991, “It is quite clear that I will not be alive in the spring. But I will soon experience new life in a different way. Although I do not know what to expect in the afterlife, I do know that just as God has called me to serve Him to the best of my ability throughout my life on earth, God is now calling me home.”
And that is what it’s all about. Death is moving from life as we know it to a new life that is far more glorious, beyond our imagining. As St. Paul wrote, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on the human heart what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Each one of us has been sent into the world with a dignity, a purpose, and a destiny. Our dignity is that, through the waters of baptism, we are the adopted sons and daughters of God the Father. Our purpose, our mission is to do the will of God in this life. Our destiny is to be with our God forever in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Again, I would like to quote Cardinal Bernardin, “What I would like to leave behind is a simple prayer that each of you may find what I have found; God’s special gift to all: the gift of peace. When we are at peace, we find the freedom to be most fully who we are, even in the worst of times. We let go of what is nonessential and embrace what is essential. We empty ourselves so that God may more fully work within us. And we become instruments in the hands of the Lord.”
— Fr. Dennis
13 November, 2016