Remember your death. It is something that I had not given much consideration. As a human being I accept I will die at least intellectually. But as a human I also seem to do my best to distract myself of this obvious fact.
A deacon once described Christianity as a religion that “teaches us how to die.” It teaches us to look at death not as something to ignore or fear, but to meet head on. Christianity is about that defining moment when we pass from this life to the next and the preparation of our souls for that moment.
Intellectually I understand this. But what I have begun to realize is that in my own life I do not live this reality. Sure I strive for holiness and attempt to please God much in the way that a three year old tries to please their parents, I’m pretty sure I mess it up most of the time, but God nods His head and says, “At least you tried son. That’s all I ask.”
What I’m beginning to realize however is that I have not made an effort to actually live like I’m preparing myself for that defining moment. I have not taken the time to reconcile my soul to the fact that I will one day be separated from my body. Apparently somewhere beyond the intellect and my will is the scared human that does its best to pretend that death is not a reality. And if I ignore it maybe it will go away.
What started my thinking on this was my experiment in Dominican Prayer that I have been conducting since the beginning of this year. I say “experiment” because I had noticed my prayer life was lacking and I wanted to jump start it with some new ways to pray. I found this wonderful book at a retreat I attended last year and finally began it in earnest.
The Third Way (which I wrapped up Tuesday night) focuses on self-mortification whilst contemplating one death. It is the attempt to focus one’s attention to that most important moment that life wants us to avoid thinking about. By meditating on that moment we attempt to focus on how to live our lives in preparation for that moment.
One can see in my entries on this that I have really struggled with this aspect of the Third Way. Meditation does not come naturally to me. As such I felt like I really had difficulty with this prayer.
Tuesday night, the last of the seven days which we spend on each Way, as the book recommends, I finally found a part of the answer to my struggles. Towards the end of the instruction is the following phrase:
Appreciate your death.
I had seen this six days before but by the time I got to this point I was so frustrated with myself that I never really paid attention. I did a double-take. What is there to appreciate?
So for the first time I really concentrated on this point. What is there to appreciate about death? Here are some of my answers:
The end of the journey – Death marks the end of our journey here in this life. It is the end of our growing in holiness and the end of our danger of falling away from God. No more can harm come to us.
The end of suffering and evil – I remember on the Catholicism subreddit someone nearly despairing about the monstrous crime of abortion. The sheer magnitude of evil that is perpetrated in the world has caused many to despair. Death releases us from that despair, the suffocation that evil seeks to ensnare us in.
The beginning of the new life – Death marks the beginning of the real life we are meant to live. That union with the Divine Presence and the unimaginable happiness that comes with that Union. It is our induction into the Hall of Saints.
I do not think I have really thought about death in this way until now. Despite what I believe I still saw death as something to avoid, to forget. But when we think about death as something to appreciate, we begin to turn our minds to that moment. We begin to understand how the martyrs went to their deaths singing.
Clearly I have some work to do in this department, and my struggles with this Way demonstrate that. But this discovery only furthers my journey, and hopefully readers get something out of it as well.
Death is something we all must face. As Catholics we are given the grace and the responsibility to face death with the knowledge that we are God’s own. We owe it to the world to face death with true dignity. Remember to appreciate your own death.