Follow by Email

Reflection on Death

Media vita in morte sumus; quem quaerimus adjutorem, nisi te Domine, qui pro peccatis nostris juste irasceris? Sancte Deus, sancte fortis, sancte et misericors Salvator, amarae morti ne tradas nos.
The antiphon above is said to have moved St. Thomas of Aquinas to tears and it kept playing in my head during a funeral mass I attended today. The funeral mass was for the mother of a friend from school. I had never met her, but I could not help but be moved by the service. I was moved by the love that the friends and family shared for this woman. I was moved by readings. I was moved by the homily. I was moved by the very knowledge that the souls of all those who had ever departed and attained eternal life were celebrating the mass alongside us. Though invisible to our mortal eyes, all the angels and saints in heaven and even the holy souls of purgatory celebrated the mass with us. Altogether, the whole experience was beautiful. It was a reminder of what lay ahead as well as a reminder of a life that will not so easily be forgotten by those who will continue to remember and love this individual for years to come.

Every time I attend a funeral, I can see why the antiphon moved St. Thomas of Aquinas to tears. Our culture puts too much of a negative emphasis on death...treating it as something that must be hushed when children are around, etc. Our culture treats death as an unexpected and unwelcome end to something good. I can understand why death is treated in this way. The horrible shooting last week is a reminder of just how terrible death can be when children's lives are cut short, when innocent lives are taken for no reason, when parents and loved ones are left behind to grieve. There is also so much in this life to be achieved, enjoyed, and celebrated. However, as the antiphon mentions...this life also has a lot of things that aren't so fantastic. During our time on earth, we suffer, we hunger, we despair...and we find ourselves experiencing tragedy after tragedy. As a result, even in life, we experience death.

I do not speak about death out of naivete. I personally did not believe in death until I was in third grade and attended my first viewing. It's not that my parents never spoke of it. It's just that I imagined it to be a myth...very much like the boogey man myth that was created to scare children into behaving. I simply believed that people lived on forever, and maybe I had some sense in believing this considering how Catholics believe in eternal life. A very dear neighbor and friend of the family passed away when I was in third grade and my parents, for whatever reason, took their children to this viewing. I remember looking up at the still body of my neighbor and finally believing that he really was gone. Ever since this experience, I've experienced other deaths in the family. I watched my uncle fade away in the last months of his life...and watched my mother pass away before my eyes even though she'd been perfectly fine a few days before.

And yet, I think death is beautiful. Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to romanticize death like one of the emo/goth people you used to sit in homeroom with during high school. I am not attempting to change my vehemently prolife position or throw away my life in any careless way....or take away any value from the lives of those that have passed away. I am merely speaking with a faith that has been tested time and time again by death...and a heart that learned to truly love after experiencing a series of tragedies. As hard as it may be to accept it whenever a young life is lost or when you wish you just had another day with a loved one who is gone...death the first step to a great unveiling of everything that lies beyond this world. It is the necessary step that leads us to a state where we are finally at peace and where our ability to love fully is finally achieved. I am convinced that after we die, we will finally experience God's love in a way that is full and complete.

It is full and complete because we are no longer weighed down by the feelings and burdens that pull us back from God during our time on earth. I don't know about you, but I am always worrying about one thing or another. Things as trivial as worrying about tomorrow's PTA meeting divert our attention and prevent us from loving completely. As a result, we may be a little crabbier to loved ones the night before cooking Christmas dinner. Sometimes we cannot help but worry. Sometimes we cannot help but complain about the things we must suffer through. Sometimes, we realize our own weaknesses...but continue to give into them. Life is hard and, as a result, we have a lot on our plates as we attempt to live day by day. As a result, as much as we try to avoid it, we lose sight of God's love and lose our ability to love as fully as God wants us to love....

When we die, I believe that we finally see God and see our loved ones more like God sees them than how we see them now. As a result, we love them more fully and may spend our time praying for them, watching over them, and interceding on their behalf. As hard as it was to lose my mom while I was still a teenager, one of the greatest comforts I had was that I had a new saint to watch over me. Knowing how much she loved me and how much she sacrificed for me during her time here on earth (something I never truly appreciated until she was gone), I was certain that the love she had for me in heaven was magnified by God's love. In better knowing His love...and experiencing His love completely unfiltered...she could better love those she left behind. In losing her physical limitations, she could also watch over more people and spend her time in heaven petitioning God on behalf of more people...just as St. Therese of Lisieux had promised long ago. Her love did not end with death, just as Christ's love for us did not end with death. The love she had for me on earth (and believe me, my mom could not have loved us any more in this life than she already did) would pale in comparison to the love she feels for us now.

I still miss my mom, but I know she is in a better place and in a better state than she was when she was with us. I also know that she is doing so much for my family based on the stories I hear about relatives who asked her to put in a good word for them...I have the feeling that she may one day become the Portuguese version of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla.

My point is that I view death more as a beginning to a life, than an end to a life. I see it as a way for love to flourish more perfectly. I see it as a way to watch over more people and to help more people without having to deal with physical limitations like arthritis, aching backs, etc. Think about all of the saints you have ever asked to help you out? Think of all the Saint Anthony prayers you've recited when you needed to find something you lost? Think of all the Saint Jude prayers you've whispered at a pew whenever you needed him to put in a good word for you during your most desperate moments. Think of all of the times you asked Our Blessed Mother to intercede for you in times of illness. You never knew these saints during the time they spent on earth. They never knew you during their time on earth. Yet, these people have helped people like you and me time and time again. Why? Because even though we never shared a pizza with them or helped them with their calculus homework....they love us.
She loves us as much as she loved Saint John
for, with Christ's blessing, she became
mother to us all.

They love us even though they've never met us during our first day of high school. They love us even though we never attended any of their birthday parties. They love us and spend much of their time in heaven interceding for us because, even though we don't know them...they know us. Even though we consider them great help for us in our time of need, we normally don't share the same love for them as we do our relatives and friends. Even so...they still love us as if we we stood beside them as their son hung dying on a cross. They love us even though we never attended even one of their masses. They love us even though we never did listen to one of the sermons they once preached to the fish. They love us because they understand love as God intended for us to understand love. They love us completely. They love us because they are able to see just how related we all are as children of God. They love us because they understand how hard it is to live this life...because they understand how scared, lonely, desperate, etc. we feel in our present state.

During our time here on earth, few of us ever love as God intends for us to love. One example of this love that comes to mind is Mother Teresa. She dedicated her life to this love and suffered greatly for this love. However, not all of us are able to drop everything in our lives to serve God and fellow man as she did (and continues to do). As hard as I try to be a good saint-in-training, I will be the first to say that I will probably never be able love even half as fully as Mother Teresa did. Part of the reason why this may never happen is that I have a different path laid out before me. Another reason is because I am, to a degree, somewhat selfish.  As much as I love my neighbor, I have the tendency to be a smart mouth in instances where silence would be far more charitable. I will cut in front of you on the Turnpike if I think you are driving too slowly. These things may seem trivial...but only because we do not feel the hurt of others when we offend them. I don't think about the possibility of whether that driver on the Turnpike is having the worst day imaginable...All I care about is making it to the Hobbit on time.

As hard as I try to change my flaws and as hard as I try to be charitable, loving, and's tough to focus on others when my back pain flares up again. It is hard to spend time helping others when I have a deadline within a week. It's hard for me to think about others when I am weighed down by dozens of concerns on a daily basis. I'm not trying to make excuses for my behavior...only trying to relate to all of the people out there that go through much of the same. The truth is, it is simply hard for us to be perfect in a very imperfect world.  Hence Media Vita's appeal. As sorrowful as this song sounds at first, as it addresses the woes of the living in an imperfect (and sometimes even bleak) world, this song brought Thomas of Aquinas to tears because of the promises it contains. One of the big promises it contains is the promise of perfect love, of God's perfect love....which can only be attained with eternal life....and which can only be attained after death.

Pax Vobiscum

1 comment: