Ever since my dad passed on, I have been meditating a lot about death. I don’t know if meditation is the right word. I have been thinking about death a lot anyway. It strikes me that although we all appreciate its eventuality, and its certainty, and we all know it does come, we are never really prepared for it. It still strikes us with a blow that leaves us breathless, leaves us wanting just one more second, one more hour, one more day with those whom we loved and are gone.
I wonder, given a chance, those who have gone, would they also wish for the same? One more day on earth; One more second with their beloved; One more time to make things right. Why would that be so? Is it because of the uncertainty of the end of one phase and the beginning of the perceived next?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Death is the end of earthly Life. Our lives are measured by time, in the course of which we change, we grow old, we die. Death is a norm to life. The aspect of death however leads to a realization that we are here for a limited time. Death is a fact, but its the condition of death that is in doubt. For those who die in Christ’s Grace, it is a participation in the death of the Lord so that they can share in his resurrection. To rise in Christ, we must die in Christ. We must, in that time of departure, be away from the body and be at home with the Lord. To a christian then, death is a gain not a loss.
We know then that to get to heaven, we must die in a state of grace, a state of no sin, a state of purity for nothing untainted can enter heaven. Each of us sins within the minute in thoughts, words and deed. Is it even possible to die in a state of grace? How do we work on ourselves so that if we do meet our maker we will be granted the gift of heaven? What are our constant thoughts? Planning evil against someone? How we will tell that juicy story about someones mistakes to that seat mate in class who doesn’t care? How we will yell at our bosses for offending us? What clouds our thoughts most days? What clouds our actions? Are we lying? Seducing the secretary who we well know is married? Promoting pornography by sharing that explicit image or video? What are we constantly saying? A kind and encouraging word or that abuse that makes people block their children’s ears? Are we backbiting? Spreading rumors? Building the courage of someone? If I am to die this moment what will be my state? How then do we attain heaven in our continuous sinful state?
This brings me to my next fascination. Religious Martyrs. Their passion in preaching Christ and their zeal in dying for that which they believed in. There are those who died very gross deaths, “Hang, Drawn and Quartered (Many English Martyrs)”, beheading (St. Cecilia), stoning (St. Stephen), goring by and angry bull (Perpetua and Felicity), starvation, burning (Joan of Arc), being shot, yet the potential of that end did not deter them from doing good, renouncing evil even in presence of authority that would endanger that messenger. Death was a welcome joy. It was a desired end to attain a greater life to come. While we dread this end, many of these saints looked forward, yearned, hungered for it. What is the difference? What differentiates them from us? I will pretend I understand when St. Paul said “My desire is to depart and be with Christ”; or when he says “My earthly desire has been crucified;. . . there is living water in me, water that murmurs and says within me; Come to the Father. I want to see God and in order to see Him I must die. I am not dying, I am entering life“; or St. Francis of Assisi in his song “All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death, From whose embrace no mortal can escape.Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your will!The second death can do them no harm.Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks. And serve him with great humility“; St. Augustine of Hippo when he said, “Christ’s martyrs feared neither death nor pain. He triumphed in them who lived in them; and they, who lived not for themselves but for Him, found in death itself the way to life”; St. Clare, on her deathbed speaking to herself Said, “Go forth in peace, for you have followed the good road. Go forth without fear; for He that created you has sanctified you, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Blessed be Thou, O God, for having created me,”; or the Holy Hermit in the words, “I have always kept death before my eyes and therefore, now that it has arrived, I see nothing new in it.”
The Church encourages us to prepare for the hour of our death. It even invokes intercession of our mother Mary to pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Why is his important, because we know not the day or the hour. I have visited patients in ICU, and I know how helpless it is to watch one we love at that state, between life and death. I do not know what capacity they have, but I assume they are in no position whatsoever to pray for themselves. I assume, maybe they can pray for themselves. I do not know what transpires between one and his or her creator before they breath their last. I know that we all need to live in constant penance and confession and avoidance of mortal sin. Penance for ourselves, penance for those who needs our prayers for the hour of their death, and penance for those gone before us. Why do they need penance? Why do we need penance? Penance is form of “punishment” for wrongdoing. It follows the logic that when we wrong the people we wrong, even when we do confess, we need a form of compensation for the sin, some kind of reparation for the consequence of our wrong doing. For instance, if I steal a cow from my neighbor, I confess my wrong doing, I am expected to return this cow, or equivalent for reparation of the consequences of the wrong inflicted. I cannot do away with all the consequences of that. Some sins however do not have direct consequence, so as a reparation for them, we perform acts of charity or prayers or any other acceptable noble activity to repair this wounded relationship, between ourselves and God, within ourselves and between ourselves and fellow men. The bigger question will be, if I stole a cow, I confess my sins, and I die, before I return the cow or its equivalent, will I go to heaven? am I in a sate of grace?
The church teaches us that every of our actions, every thought, should be of those who expect to die before the day ends. Death should no longer be a terror for us if we have a quiet conscience. We need to keep it clear of sin instead of running away from death. If we are not ready for death today, it is highly unlikely we will be tomorrow. May our long gone before saints inspire us with their words to live this life with eternity in our minds, because, death is just a gateway to eternity. St Bonaventure says that, “…to lead a good life a man should always imagine himself at the hour of death…”, St. Alphonsus augments this argument in his sayings “…if you believe that you must die, that there is an eternity, that you can die only once, and that if you then err your error will be forever, irreparable, why do you not resolve to begin at this moment, to do all in your power to secure a good death?…; …Oh! hasten to apply a remedy in time, resolve to give yourself sincerely to God, and begin from this moment a life which, at the hour of death, will be to you a source, not of affliction, but of consolation. Give yourself up to prayer, frequent the sacraments, avoid all dangerous occasions, and, if necessary, leave the world, secure yourself eternal salvation, and be persuaded that to secure eternal life no precaution can be too great, and , “…if you wish to live well, spend the remaining days of life with death before your eyes.”
Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven. It therefore implies that facing the hour of death unprepared could easily be the greatest mistake of our lives. We do not know the day nor the hour, but we do know with iron-clad certitude that death comes for us all. The only logical conclusion to be reached is that we must begin training for this final confrontation today. We must strengthen ourselves against our vices and our attachment to sins, through prayer and penance. We must become dedicated to never losing the state of grace, and to rooting out even the smaller sins to which we have become habituated. If we cannot win a simple battle with our unseen tempters while we are yet strong and in good health, how can we hope to overcome their final, tangible assault as we lay weak and dying? Does this mean we stop living and start dieing? No, it means we live with the end in mind. We start living our heaven here. We make every moment count so that the answer to the question, “If Christ was to come now would you continue doing what He currently finds you doing?”, Would be a resounding YES. May we be prepared, may we live in readiness, may we always be ready for the transformation to the life of the world to come.