Saturday, February 06, 2010
Death: How to Do It
For a celibate priest there is little chance of me dying in my own bed, it is either a quick heart attack or following my mother, a rather hideous long drawn out death of alzheimers and hospital infections in a broken leg which remained unhealed for three years, or like my father, whose first anniversary is at this time , who died in hospice.
It is the lack of control, the dependency that rather frightens me, more than pain. I would certainly want to be spared from officiously being kept alive, a doctor's skill is perhaps more of a threat than a blessing today. I can sympathise with those who think of suicide, I can understand the fear of a loss of dignity, of being confronted by a process that has become increasingly institutionalised. It is rational to want control of one's death, it is after all MY death not someone elses.
Our faith should have something to say not just about legislation concerning dying but the process of dying itself. This week we have celebrated Saints Blaise, Agatha and today Paul Miki and his companions. Martyrdom and martyrs teach us something supremely important about heroic death, not just for those who die in the hatred of the Faith but simply for those of us who one day must die.
Not only do the Martyrs commend themselves into the hands of God but also the hands of their tormentors. They are models for us, whether they die in their own filth alone, forgotten, in a prison cell or naked, humiliated in the gaze of others, their deaths are models of our death, they remind us of the lack of control we have over our own end and of the necessity of accepting what Providence may send, of the importance of dying heroically, with inner dignity and in the Lord, whatever may come.
For centuries Christians prepared themselves for the agony of death by meditating on those who willingly accepted death for Christ, their example gave the courage to pray to be delivered "from a sudden and unprovided death", what many now call a "good death". That is quite the opposite of what Christian's understand by a "good and holy death", how dreadful for us to die without Confession, unconcious of the sacraments, without the prayer of Holy Church.
We need to teach people not only how to live but how to die, to die in the Lord.
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