18 July 2014

A question to prepare for a happy death

Four hundred years and four days ago, Saint Camillus de Lellis died in Rome after spending his life in service to the incurably ill. What strikes me most about him is the title of the religious order he founded: the Fathers of a Good Death.

Today, if a priest - or anyone else - were to establish an order of the same or a similar name, he would be called "morbid," "sick," "insane," or even "depressed." Rather than acknowledging or accepting the simple and unavoidable fact that each of us will die, we prefer to pretend that we can escape death. We do so principally by not talking or thinking about death, much to our detriment.

Saint Camillus and his companions did not shy away from the end of human life as we know it and sought to prepare souls to see the Lord Jesus face to face. What will we do to help prepare ourselves - and others - for this day, which may come tomorrow or forty years from now?

A friend asked an intriguing question on Facebook today: "What is one word that you want people to use at your funeral to describe you?" My first answer - and that also of another priest - was that I be said to be dead (priests have an odd sort of humor).

In all seriousness, though, the answer to her question can be used as a daily examination conscious and as a way to weigh our priorities. What word would I like to be said of me? What did I do today to make that word true?

Now, you ask, what word would I like to be said? It is difficult to choose just one word when three come to mind (though they are somewhat connected together): faithful, loyal, and authentic.

Asking this question each day can help us prepare for a happy death and so look with joy upon the Holy Face of him who died for us.

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