13 November 2013

He who lives well, dies well; he who lives ill, dies ill

As darkness now encroaches ever more upon the light of day, as the leafless days arrive, the temperature cools, and clouds increasingly hang over the earth, our thoughts - quite naturally - turn to the reality of death.

The poet William Cullen Bryant put this reality in words that, though simple, are true:
The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sear

This past Monday one of my former soccer players tweeted, "There is nothing worse than waking up on a Monday morning."  To this thought his brother quickly replied, "Not waking up on a Monday morning would be pretty bad."

As much as I agreed with the first this particular Monday morning - I awoke and quickly admitted defeat (we've all had days like that) - I suggested a different angle: "That depends on how you've lived your life." It is a thought which I later expanded (as much as one can on Twitter):
Still, if we woke each morning and thought, "I might not wake up tomorrow," we would live differently and better.
However much we try to escape it or forget it, the simple and unavoidable reality is that you and I will, in fact, die.  The end of our days may come in thirty years, or in thirty seconds; we cannot know.  It behooves us, then, to always be prepared for the moment of death; not to be in dread of it, but to welcome it as a friend, indeed, as Sister Bodily Death.

The second death is to be welcomed because, as His Holiness Pope Francis said this past Sunday, "death is behind us, not in front of us. In front of us is the God of the living."  We must, then, consider a defining question: Am I ready, at this very moment, to meet the God of the living?

It was once customary to pray for the grace of a happy death, using prayers such as this one composed by Blessed John Henry Newman:
Oh, my Lord and Savior, support me in that hour in the strong arms of Your Sacraments, and by the fresh fragrance of Your consolations.  Let the absolving words be said over me, and the holy oil sign and seal me, and Your own Body be my food, and Your Blood my sprinkling; and let my sweet Mother, Mary, breathe on me, and my Angel whisper peace to me, and my glorious Saints smile upon me; that in them all, and through them all, I may receive the gift of perseverance, and die, as I desire to live, in Your faith, in Your Church, in Your service, and in Your love.  Amen.
There is also, though it is infrequently celebrated, a Mass for the Grace of a Happy Death, which has the following Collect:
O God, who have created us in your image
and willed that your Son should undergo death for our sake,
grant that those who call upon you
may be watchful in prayer at all times,
so that we may leave this world without stain of sin
and may merit to rest with joy in your merciful embrace.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, etc.
Certainly in whatever time remains to each of us we can now begin to prepare to die well, and the first step in doing so is living well.  This axiom is the heart of Saint Robert Bellarmine's The Art of Dying Well, which I highly recommend to you (if you follow the link, you can read the entire text).

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