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48. Holy Death

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Read by Br. Nicholas Bartoli

The gospel proclaims that Christ has transformed death by his cross and resurrection and that through our Baptism we have already passed through death with him and been incorporated into his risen body.  But we grasp this mystery only by faith, accepting the inner struggle between doubt and confidence in Christ’s promise of eternal life:  “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Day by day, as we feed on Christ in the Eucharist, our hope can be rekindled:  “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”

We are called to remember our mortality day by day with unflinching realism, shaking off the sleep of denial.  Paradoxically, only those who remember that they are but dust, and to dust they shall return, are capable of accepting the presence of eternal life in each passing moment and receiving ever fresh the good news of hope.  The anticipation of death is essential if we are to live each day to the full as a precious gift, and rise to the urgency of our vocation as stewards who will be called to give account at Christ’s coming.  Remembering that death can come to us at any time will spur us to be prepared, by continual renewal of our repentance and acceptance of the forgiveness of God, to meet Christ without warning.  We shall remember to express to one another those things that would make us ready to part without regrets, especially thankfulness and reconciliation.

Week by week we are to accept every experience that requires us to let go as an opportunity for Christ to bring us through death into life.  Hardships, renunciations, losses, bereavements, frustrations and risks are all ways in which death is at work in advance preparing us for the self-surrender of bodily death.  Through them we practice the final letting go of dying, so that it will be less strange and terrifying to us.

In the community we shall experience the event of death in many forms.  A brother’s death may be serene; other deaths will share in the agony of Gethsemane or the physical and spiritual pain that has tested many saints.  Some of us will die filled with the light of hope; others may enter the darkness of Jesus’ dereliction.  As brothers we will seek to uphold the one who is dying with compassion and love, supporting him with prayer and the sacramental grace that comes through Holy Communion and the Laying on of Hands and Anointing.

The death of a brother may give rise to many varied feelings among us which we can help one another to accept.  We will not be ashamed to grieve, as Christ grieved at the death of Lazarus, or to show ourselves to be shaken.  But Christ has prayed that those whom God has given him will be with him where he is and will see his glory.  In our mourning and celebration of the liturgy of burial we seek to show our trust that our brother is being brought into the glory of God’s presence.  In Christ we are still one with our departed brothers and we express this communion through regular prayer for them and by recalling their lives on the anniversaries of their deaths.  We believe that they pray for us and that we will be reunited when Christ gathers all creation to himself, so that God may be all in all.

2 thoughts on “48. Holy Death

  1. To think of death at work in advance is a valuable concept, a shift from death as an event to death as a process. My father and stepmother are moving into a retirement home which will be too far to visit by car and will require a bus or train. This loss foreshadows that my dad will not be around indefinitely. He is 91 years old, so one would think I already realized that. Apparently not. This move makes it real. Trying to empty the garage of my mother’s furniture makes real the fact that the family no longer is centered here. Death is at work in advance.

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