When will I die, and how? Will it be at the ripe old age of ninety after I’ve lived a full life? Will it be painless? What if I die tomorrow in a car accident on the freeway? What if this next flight is my last? There are many ways to die and many ways to meditate on death. It is something that every Christian should think about often. We cannot live our lives myopically, narrowly focusing only on what is immediately in front of us, but we must instead look ahead and keep our eyes fixed on eternity.
We don’t like to talk about death and we desperately try to hide things that remind us of it. Funerals, instead of being occasions to pray for the dead and to look forward to eternal life, have often become backwards-looking “celebrations of life.” Coffins with the deceased are rarely present at funerals since they remind us of death.
Tragic, sudden deaths often wake us up to the reality that death can come at any time. Now I must admit, I never had many opportunities growing up to become acquainted with death. Because death was so far away from me, I never feared it. Since I had not experienced the tragic death of a loved one, I never thought of dying. Since entering the Order, death has come a lot closer. Over the summer I ministered at a hospice in Pacifica operated by the Missionaries of Charity. I had the very sobering experience of helping them clean, dress, and prepare a man to be taken by the mortician. He was alive barely fifteen minutes before that. The death of Bishop Robert Christian, who lived with us at St. Dominic’s for a while, was another shock. It was completely unexpected.
These two experiences have caused me to think about the possibility of death every day. To be clear, this is not a sort of paranoid or obsessive dwelling upon death, but rather a serious acknowledgement of it in the light of eternity. It’s the prayer: “O Lord, My God, from this moment on I accept with a good will, as something coming from your hand, whatever kind of death you want to send me, with all its anguish, pain, and sorrow. I accept it whether it is naturally when I am ninety or tomorrow in an accident on the freeway.”
But why this focus on death? Christians should not focus on death for the sake of death. Thinking about my death has no intrinsic value. I think about my death because I know that when I die I will be judged by the Lord. Where my soul resides for eternity will depend upon whether or not I chose to follow Jesus and his commandments in this short life. Saint Benedict says in his Rule for monks, “keep death daily before your eyes.” May we look upon death every day as a reminder that we are destined for eternity, and may our meditation on it direct our lives toward heaven.
Br. Benedict Mary Bartsch, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE