Our Friend Death
Part I of II
As the saying goes: “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” But taxes you can avoid and evade; death–not so. Therefore, the only logical response to death is to embrace it…or at least accept it. After all, it’s not like we have a choice.
While traveling back from dropping off a son for college in Oregon a while ago, we attended Mass in Missoula, Montana at St. Francis Xavier Church. During the prayers of intercession, one prayer caught my attention: “For all who have died, for all who are going to die and for all who are afraid to die.”
That last one–all who are afraid to die–stood out for me. “Isn’t that just about everyone?” I thought. Yet, many years ago, I realized there was only one thing to do about death–to make a friend of it and think of it often.
Life through Death
At first glance, thinking of death seems morbid. Death hardly seems like a cheerful thought for the day. But I contend that it is just that–or at least it can be a holy way to get through the day. And with holiness comes peace and ultimately joy. The opposite would be to try to deny death. That would be a depressing and hopelessly futile endeavor. Death is coming for us all so the sooner we make peace with it the sooner we can get on with living.
In the book Amazing Grace for Survivors (Ascension Press) there is a story titled “The Gift of Cancer.” In it, Richard J. Cusack, Sr. says that God gave him the greatest possible gift. “It was cancer and the fear of dying,” said Cusack. “Through that gift He woke me up and showed me what life is all about and how wonderful it can be when you begin your journey closer to Him.”
Cusack recovered, but during the time he believed he was at death’s doorstep, he prioritized his life very differently than it had been previously and he also began a ministry. “One Friday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. he was sitting in a perpetual adoration chapel, thanking God for all the extra time he had been given. ‘Before I arrive at my final judgment, is there something I can do for you here on earth?’ he asked God. ‘What would be pleasing to you? He suddenly had an inspiration about making a beautiful holy card with a monstrance on the front and the words, ‘Do you really love me? Then come to me. Visit me before the Blessed Sacrament.’” His first printing of 100 cards quickly ran out and requests for more poured in. Since that time, Cusack has distributed tens of thousands of these cards. It was death that was the inspiration for such living.
Several years ago, I was speaking with Elizabeth “Beth” Matthews, a favorite author of mine who contributed stories to the “Amazing Grace” book series. She was in the middle of yet another move, dealing with all the usual hassles and then some. Beth related to me a phone conversation she had with a relative. “In another hundred years we’ll all be dead and none of this will matter,” she had said.
Her relative was taken aback and said, “Oh Beth, don’t say that.”
But Beth responded: “Why not? It’s true.”
I understand that such a thought is actually not depressing, but freeing. Death puts everything in perspective. Instead of fretting over some irritation, it reminds us that indeed, soon our life on earth and life’s inconveniences will be nothing to us. It reminded me of something my mother used to say to me when I was a girl, whenever I was upset over some trivial thing: “Will it matter in a hundred years from now?”
What if death was on your “to-do” list today?
I once read of a monk that was working in the garden when he was asked what he would do if he had one hour left to live. The monk calmly stated that he would not do anything differently, he would continue working in the garden. Many are surprised at such a response since most of us would immediately drop to our knees and pray. But for this monk, he strove to live every moment for God. Thus, he was always ready.
We all know people who spend inordinate amounts of time at work and have many possessions, but don’t go to Mass. If they knew they would come face to face with the Almighty that afternoon, would they change their schedule for the day? Or parents who run their kids all over town for activities, but don’t bother to take them to church on Sunday. If they suddenly learned their child was going to die very soon, would the priorities change?
In Part II, we will continue our look at life through our friend death and consider how the Divine Jeweler will appraise us.
Art for this post on our friend death: Detail of Schwarzenberg (Vorarlberg). Pfarrkirche Heiligste Dreieinigkeit: Franz-Xaver-Altar Schwarzenberg (Vorarlberg) (Holy Trinity parish church: Altar of Saint Francis Xaver [showing death of Francis Xavier]), previously identified as the work of Johann Joseph Kauffmann, 1757, photographed by Wolfgang Sauber, 27 May 2012 own work, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons.