Advent is a season to prepare for the great solemnity of Christmas. But it has also been a traditional time to consider the "four last things"...death, judgment, hell, and heaven. We would like to consider these four last things during this Advent season. So, without further ado, we bring you the first of these: death.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that 1) death is the end of earthly life; 2) death is a consequence of sin; but also 3) death is transformed by Christ, Who also suffered death. (CCC 1007-1009) Christ has given death a positive meaning. "What is essentially new about Christian death is this: through Baptism, the Christian has already 'died with Christ' sacramentally, in order to live a new life; and if we die in Christ's grace, physical death completes this 'dying with Christ' and so completes our incorporation into his redeeming act." (CCC 1010) As St. Therese of Lisieux said, "I am not dying; I am entering life." (Last Conversations)
Ray Bradbury wrote a novel called Death Is A Lonely Business, and this title probably sums up the way most of us view death. But not so long ago people kept vigil with the dying, offering prayers and other consolations, encouraging them as they faced the temptations that afflict the dying in particular (represented by demons in the woodcut above). We still keep vigils with our dying sisters here at the monastery, praying, singing the "Salve Regina" and other hymns, and being a quiet loving presence for them as they make this transition. But even if one is alone at the moment of death, as believers we know we are surrounded by hosts of saints and angels who are there to assist us, to guide us through this passage. It is helpful--and not morbid!--to pray for the grace of a "happy death", that is, a calm, peaceful death, in which we can make our last surrender to God. We pray for this every time we pray the Hail Mary--"Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death". We can also pray to St. Joseph, the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, who is the patron of a happy death. In the end, death is not the end. There is more to come!
St. Paul wrote to Timothy, "This saying is trustworthy. If we have died with him, we shall also live with him." (2 Timothy 2:11) Amen!